IRVING, Texas – There's no shortage of notes to go over after a game – namely, a second half – like that one. It helps explain why I came back to Valley Ranch to begin watching tape on Sunday night, and I stayed with it for most of the day on Monday.
With that in mind, let's get into it. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the film of the Cowboys' Week 3 loss to the Falcons:
- Tyrone Crawford was asked postgame what role injuries played in the Cowboys' defeat to the Falcons. Crawford's answer wasn't surprising when he said "We just didn't do our jobs." As well as this Dallas front seven played in the victory last week against the Eagles, it was the complete opposite on Sunday. Against Philadelphia they were able to control the line of scrimmage and rally to the ball – but there was little of that against Atlanta. The Falcons came into the game without their best running back in Tevin Coleman, but that didn't slow them down one bit. Like I said in my observations shortly after the game, Devonta Freeman punished the Cowboys with his running style. It didn't matter whether it was inside or outside, Freeman found holes and finished runs. Fullback Patrick DiMarco also played a significant role in the way the Falcons ran the ball. DiMarco was not only physical blocking on the edges, but he was able to inflict damage inside to Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee with his cut blocks that left the pair scrambling to get back on their feet.
- If Joseph Randle is going to have any success in this scheme, he is going to need to do a better job of trusting the play and following his blockers. Randle hit the Falcons with some large runs, but he also left some potential yards on the field with poor decisions. One play in question saw Scott Linehan send a call in that was designed for Travis Frederick and Tyler Clutts to get outside and capture the corner -- which they were both able to do. On the play Randle even got a block from Devin Street, which created even more space to the outside. For some unexplained reason, Randle didn't follow his blockers to the outside, where things had developed – he veered to the inside where Justin Durrant was standing right there to meet him for a one-yard gain instead of having a shot for a larger gain.
- Even when this Dallas defense tried to double Julio Jones in coverage, he managed to find a way to beat it. On his long touchdown reception, Tyler Patmon jumped to the outside as if he was expecting help to the inside from J.J. Wilcox. I am not sure what Wilcox was thinking, because he was also hanging to the outside -- which gave Jones a free release inside. Just by alignment, Wilcox was beaten and had no shot of rallying to Jones to prevent him from catching the ball.
- At the time I saw it from the press box, I had my questions why Jason Garrett would use a timeout right before the end of the half with the ball on the Atlanta goal line. If Tony Romo had been on the field, Garrett would have most likely taken another 15-20 seconds off the clock, then called the time out. By calling the timeout when he did, Garrett accomplished two things: he was able to get the right personnel on the field for the situation, but he could have also wanted to save Brandon Weeden some clock in case the first down run failed. What Garrett didn't account for in his clock management was the possibility of two Atlanta plays that went for 50 yards – which happened.
- This statement might appear to be a little dramatic, but we might look back and say that this was the game that changed Morris Claiborne's career. Of all the defensive backs that had the opportunity to take a crack at covering Julio Jones, Claiborne did the best job. For a player that came into the season with more questions than answers, playing toe-to-toe with Jones could have done nothing but to boost his confidence. Claiborne wasn't perfect, but he didn't let Jones beat him up. He was physical when he needed to be, and when he called on his technique to help him – it was right where it needed to be. It would have been nice to see him come up with that interception on the goal line, but these coaches couldn't have asked him to play Jones and that route any better.
- Need to keep an eye on Damien Wilson getting more looks as a nickel rusher going forward --especially with all of these injuries. Wilson got an opportunity for a couple of rushes from both the left and right side with some surprising success. I believe you will see them work with him more in the coming weeks to see if they can develop him a little further.
- Even your best players have an off day, and I felt like that was the case with Tyron Smith on Sunday. With offensive linemen you can't just grade them on one or two plays but their entire body of work – so the sack by Vic Beasley late in the game was only a part of the picture. To Beasley's credit, he had a heck of a jump off the snap and he was able to get to Smith's outside. I thought Smith was going to be able to recover, but Beasley was low to the ground and was on a path to Weeden. There were also a couple of snaps where Smith was on the backside in the running game and when he reached hard to the front side – he lost track of his man, which is something you rarely see from him.
- I appreciate Brandon Carr's confidence in his ability to cover, but when you switch with Tyler Patmon in coverage to take Julio Jones out of the slot – make sure you actually cover him. Carr never got his hands on Jones, who got inside so fast that Matt Ryan had no choice but to throw him the ball. Jones, uncontested, made the catch and took the ball inside the Dallas red zone.
- Terrance Williams drew Desmond Trufant 16 times in coverage on Sunday. On the day, Trufant held Williams to no catches on two targets. In my opinion, Trufant was the best corner the Falcons have. Talking to a couple of members of their front office after the game – they were surprised that Williams didn't get more of an opportunity to work on Robert Alford, who is not nearly as talented and tends to give up more plays.
- Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews caught a break not having to play against Jeremy Mincey. In my pregame matchups I wrote that I thought that Matthews would struggle with the power of Mincey in this game. Matthews can handle guys that like to rush up the field and play on the edge all day, which he saw from Jack Crawford and Ryan Russell. If Mincey had played in this game, I believe you would have seen him handle those blocks off the edge from Matthews --but also those blocks in the running game from the Falcons full backs and tight ends. Mincey would have made a difference like he has the previous two games.
- I have to say that I was pleased to see La'el Collins play as well as he did for the injured Ronald Leary. Coming into this game I really wasn't sure what we might see from Collins with a man on his nose the majority of the game. But there were no major issues, either physically or assignment-wise. In talking to people around the team, they said that Collins had a nice week of work and they felt like that would transfer to the game, which it did. He played with power and when he had to get to the second level in the running game – he wasn't a step behind. He also did a nice job of working with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick handling the games up front. As well as he played, I still expect Ronald Leary to once again to be in the starting lineup against the Saints.
- On the Falcons' two-point play – the defense only had 10 men on the field. Rookie Byron Jones did not make it out there and tight end Levine Toilolo was left uncovered.