FRISCO, Texas – We've written a few more of these post-loss breakdowns than we had to last season.
That's to be expected in the NFL, but it's never a fun thing to do after a game like that. For the second time this season, the Cowboys were beaten soundly in a road game.
As usual, it's our job to take a look at the reasons why. Even in a game where the Cowboys allowed eight sacks and gave up 27 points, there are positives to be found. All three phases of the game saw solid performances – on top of the obvious bad ones we already know about.
So, here's what I saw after going through the tape – good, bad and ugly.
- I liked the design of the blitz by Sean Lee and Damien Wilson on the Xavier Woods interception. With the defense in their three-man front, both Lee and Wilson attacked the Falcons tackles with such violence it freed DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford up to put pressure on Matt Ryan. Ryan, feeling the heat from Lawrence and Lee, quickly fired the ball toward Mohamed Sanu -- but it was high. With Sanu having to adjust and Anthony Brown on his back, the ball got knocked to the air, where Woods was able to track it and lay out to secure the turnover. As good as the interception was, the execution was even better.
- Obvious bust by the Falcons on the Dak Prescott touchdown run. Both Deion Jones and Brian Poole went with Rod Smith in the flat, leaving Prescott a lane to the end zone -- but he still needed a block. Prescott got that block from Noah Brown, who was able to pin Takk McKinley to the inside. That's all that Prescott needed, and with a pump fake to hold Ricardo Allen in place, he was able to dive into the end zone untouched.
- Terrible break for the offense right before the half on the Chaz Green holding call. Cole Beasley ran a beautiful route to escape from Brian Poole. Prescott slid a little to his left in the pocket to put the ball right on Beasley as he scooted out of bounds at the Falcons' 35-yard line. That gain not only secured a first down, but it conserved their final time out. Green was unable to sit down on Brooks Reed, who just lowered his head and drove him all the way back to Prescott. Green had no choice but to put his hands on the outside of Reed's shoulder pads in order to control him. As Reed went past Prescott, he did what all smart defenders do -- flopped on the ground in order to draw the flag, which he got. Two plays later, Adrian Clayborn beat Green for a sack/fumble to end any threat of scoring.
- I really liked what I saw from the Cowboys defensive tackles in this game. I had a feeling of that just watching the game in the studio, but the coaches' tape was even better. Maliek Collins continues to be disruptive at the nose while David Irving continues to cause problems for opponents at the under-tackle. Where these two had their best snaps during the game was when they were on the move. We saw a little of that last week against the Chiefs and they were able to use some of those stem principles to throw the Falcons blockers off track. There was one play where Collins was so far up the field on Alex Mack that Tevin Coleman was forced to cut the ball right into the arms of Irving, who had beaten Ryan Schraeder. I wasn't sure that replacing Terrell McClain was possible, but the combination of Collins and Irving have been just as productive as what McClain and Collins were last season.
- There was absolutely nothing that Anthony Brown could have done to prevent Julio Jones from catching the ball for 24 yards to start the second half. I wouldn't say that Matt Ryan threw it in the perfect spot, because it took Jones full extension to pull the ball in. As a matter of fact, Jones caught the back end of the ball, then somehow pulled it in, maintaining control before crashing out of bounds. I can say this without a single thought that 95 percent of the receivers in the league don't make that catch and Jones pulled it off without a hitch.
- Nice job by Byron Jones holding the Falcons to a field goal attempt after the Sean Lee injury. The Cowboys went with a three-man rush, which forced Matt Ryan to have to step up. Jones was in coverage on Austin Hooper, who tried to work a pivot route to the inside in order to get away. Jones didn't make the mistake of over-running Hooper and was able to keep leverage on him. Ryan tried to throw Hooper open up the field, but Jones was right there to wrap him up and get the big tight end to the ground -- which is no easy task.
- It's usually a sign that there is going to be some type of trick play on special teams when the head coach is standing by the down marker. Jason Garrett was right there and saw it with his own eyes when Brice Butler pushed Robert Alford in the chest with his right hand. As soon as the flag hit the field, the official didn't have to give Garrett an explanation, as he knew exactly what happened. The play was well-executed, from the Chris Jones throw to the blocks of Keith Smith and Rod Smith on Adrian Clayborn. The Cowboys would have had the ball on the Falcons' 21-yard with a chance to build on their 7-3 lead -- but it was all for naught.
- After what happened last week right before half, it was nice to see the play that Jourdan Lewis made on Julio Jones. Lewis did a great job of keeping outside leverage on Jones, and when he broke to the out, Lewis was able to flip his hips that direction and drive. Lewis was in such good position instead of just playing the ball with his off-hand, he actually got both hands on the ball and almost came away with the interception. If Jones had come up with that ball, Atlanta had one time out left with a chance for a field goal, but Lewis denied that opportunity.
- On the drive where the Cowboys missed the field goal, the offense had the ball with a first down on the Falcons' 12. This is where, if Ezekiel Elliott was playing, you might hand him the ball a couple of times to try and get it a little closer. Instead, Scott Linehan decided that he wanted to throw the ball and actually had a play if Alfred Morris hadn't stumbled going into the flat. Prescott was looking his direction, but when he saw Morris trying to regain his balance, his focus shifted to Dez Bryant in the middle of the field. By the time he got back to Bryant, it was too late. Adrian Clayborn had beaten Chaz Green around the edge and was on top of him for the sack. The next two plays, they lost a yard and were forced to attempt the field goal.
- I was curious how Scott Linehan was going to handle those third down calls where he only needs a yard or two. With no Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, he was going to have to come up with some creative ideas. Where Linehan is at a great advantage is that he has a 240-pound quarterback who is an outstanding ball handler. For him to run the read-option out of a pistol formation with Cole Beasley as the running back is an exceptional wrinkle. When Prescott faked inside to Alfred Morris and took the ball outside, it put De'Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole in a bad situation. Poole was frozen on the fake to Beasley, which allowed Prescott to scramble forward for the necessary yardage to secure the first down. In the coming weeks, we should see more variations of this scheme.
- Give Noah Brown, Keith Smith and Blake Jarwin some credit for the blocks they got to spring Ryan Switzer on the Cowboys' second kickoff return. Taking the ball at the goal line, Switzer was at the 25-yard line before a red jersey even laid a hand on him -- and that was due to those blocks. If Switzer could have somehow broken the ball back to his left, he still might be running. If opponents continue to kick the ball short, Switzer is going to turn a game around with one of his returns, whether that's on the punt or kickoff.
- I was convinced Benson Mayowa was going to get a call going low into the legs of Matt Ryan. That is one of those penalties that referees automatically call in order to protect the quarterback -- which Ed Hochuli did. What I didn't expect was Hochuli would visit with his umpire, Shawn Smith, before he marked it off. Smith correctly identified that Mayowa was pushed into Ryan by Jake Matthews. Smith was able to convey what he saw to Hochuli, who picked up the flag on the play.