FRISCO, Texas – From my vantage point in our studio at The Star, here are my initial reactions to a big Cowboys win on the road in Atlanta.
As always, I'll have a more detailed notebook after I can watch the game again. But these are my big impressions from Sunday afternoon, after a game the Cowboys absolutely had to have.
· I love the way that Cole Beasley came back in that game after the early touchdown drop. It would have been a great way to finish that opening drive, but it just wasn't meant to be. Give credit to Scott Linehan for dusting off that play and bringing it out in that situation. We first saw it against the Packers in a game at Lambeau Field in 2016. Beasley executed the route again to perfection, but he just didn't get the finish. Despite that drop, Beasley was outstanding the rest of the way and a big reason for the victory.
· Really big series early in the game for the Dallas defense, getting two sacks on Matt Ryan to drive the Falcons out of field goal range and force a punt. The Cowboys were coming off an ugly three-and-out, giving the Falcons a little momentum. Ryan had just converted a quarterback sneak for a first and the Cowboys were on their heels. But Randy Gregory won a twist stunt, running down Ryan. Two plays later, Ryan was trying to find Calvin Ridley dragging underneath --but DeMarcus Lawrence, swatting at the ball, somehow kept his body balance and got Ryan to the turf before he could get the ball out, getting the defense off the field.
· I was so disappointed that Jeff Heath couldn't come down with that interception. For a defense that had been struggling to pick off passes, that was a great opportunity to get one. I felt like Heath did everything right from his positioning on the route, to tracking the ball. All he needed was the finish -- but just as he was securing it Julio Jones did an outstanding job of knocking it loose.
· As a former scout in this league, I had to smile to myself about what the Cowboys' scouts were thinking when Leighton Vander Esch intercepted that deflected ball off Calvin Ridley. I guarantee that there were guys in that draft room that spilled their guts about both players and why they deserved to be on this squad. As happy as the Falcons are about Ridley, the Cowboys are just as pleased with Vander Esch. For a rookie, his learning curve has been so small -- and that's really something that, as a scout, you really can't predict. Vander Esch continues to put himself in a position to make plays, whether it's in the running game or defending the pass. That play where he denied Austin Hooper the ball on the goal line was a four-point play for the defense. It forced the Falcons to kick a field goal when it appeared that they were looking a touchdown right in the face.
· What a tremendous reception along the sideline by Amari Cooper with his extension. I have no idea how Dak Prescott got that ball over the top of the coverage, but Cooper extended his hands just at the right moment, pulling that ball down. What's so impressive about Cooper is not only his catch radius, but the body control he's able to display. He never appears to be in a poor position body-wise when the ball comes his way.
· I just wish that Xavier Woods would have had a better finish on the play where Tevin Coleman caught the ball behind the line in the flat. Woods couldn't have played that any better when it came to his read and his reaction. He saw the play the entire way and put himself in perfect positon to make a huge tackle for loss. But instead, Woods bounced off Coleman and the running back scooted down the sideline for 18 yards. There have been snaps where Woods has tackled better after getting off to a rough start, so I promise when he studies the tape on Monday he's going to be sick about that particular miss.
· La'el Collins comes from a school, LSU, that knows something about running the football. What a heads up play by him, not only to pick up the Ezekiel Elliott fumble with heavily-taped gloves, but also the presence of mind to take it forward to secure the first down. Collins was on the backside of the play, but to his credit he stuck with it and made the recovery in order to sustain the drive that resulted in the first Cowboys touchdown.
· The numbers don't say that Dak Prescott had great success on the ground, but there were a couple of one or two-yard runs that made a big difference in the outcome of this game. His touchdown run off the read-option was just a power move on his part. That read was not clean, and Damontae Kazee was sitting right there in the hole waiting for him. Prescott was not going to be denied and Kazee had no answer for him as he blasted into the end zone.
· Cam Fleming had a really nice second-level block on Ezekiel Elliott's touchdown, right through the middle of the Falcons' defense. Once Elliott hit the hole, I thought the play had a chance due to all the white jerseys on top of the black ones. It was excellent blocking at the point of attack to open the hole and all Elliott needed was that one block from Fleming. Once he got near the goal line, there was no way a Falcons safety was going to make the tackle.
· I have been critical of Dak Prescott at times for not completely seeing the field, but I have to say that 19-yard pass to Cole Beasley made a fool out of me. Not only did Prescott slide to his left to buy him some space, but he anticipated Beasley moving away from him and dropped a beautiful touch pass to put the Cowboys in field goal range. Prescott saw Beasley all the way, but more importantly he gave Beasley an opportunity to use his quickness in order to chase the ball down by leading him up the field.
· Tip of the cap to Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett for being shorthanded up front but still getting the maximum effort and ability out the guys that were dressed. I had heard through the grapevine that on Friday they were working Damien Wilson at some right defensive end just in case they needed a body to play in case of injury. Before the game, Pam Oliver of Fox Sports confirmed this through Rod Marinelli, but it didn't appear they had to go that route. The rotation wasn't very deep, especially inside at tackle, but it was a good mix of their four-man line and some three-man line that were good enough to put pressure on one of the better quarterbacks in the league. It is likely that they could get Antwaun Woods back for the Redskins game and maybe even Taco Charlton. That will help tremendously.
· My final thought: I am sure that Jason Garrett had his reasons why he didn't take a "Hail Mary" shot down the field before half, but it confused me -- especially with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Rico Gathers available. The Falcons are not a great pass rushing team and their secondary has been suspect. Maybe he didn't want Dak Prescott to suffer a potential interception, but that was something I might have tried, especially with their skill guys, to go get me one.