Immediately after the Dallas Cowboys lost Tony Romo last week, we started beating the drum that the defense was the key to the Cowboys staying afloat. In their first test without Tony Romo (and Dez Bryant), the defense was gashed in the second half as the Atlanta Falcons had their way, on their way, to a 39-28 victory. The offense certainly was a problem in the second half as they could no longer run the ball effectively and couldn't keep the defense off the field with sustained drives. We knew without Romo and Bryant, the offense was going to be inconsistent, but if the Cowboys offense puts up 28 points, then it's on the defense to close the deal. They didn't. You can't give up 39 points and expect to win.
It wasn't just Julio Jones that killed the Cowboys, even though his 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns was certainly a key factor. It was to be expected that Jones would have a big impact on the game, he is one of the NFL's best players. What really hurt, though, was unheralded Devonta Freeman torching the Cowboys for 141 yards on 30 carries, and chipping in three touchdowns on the ground.
The Cowboys defense had showed up in the first couple of weeks, especially the run defense. Today, the got totally handled by the Falcons offensive line. Freeman's runs were one beneficiary, but Matt Ryan's time in the pocket was another. Dallas managed one sack early in the game, but rarely bothered Ryan after that.
While we were keenly focused on the injuries to Romo and Bryant, we were also paying attention to the fact that the Cowboys were missing three of their top players on the defensive line. Without Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and Jeremy Mincey, Dallas just didn't have enough to go the distance with the Falcons. They wore down and were washed away by the end of the game.
The positives out of this game are that the Cowboys running game started to see some success, and Brandon Weeden played an okay game besides one very bad interception. Dallas was unable to adjust in the second half when the running game bogged down, but an output of 28 points on that side of the ball is probably as much as we could hope for in the first game of this Romo-less stretch.
But to win, they'll need more from the defense. Next week, they should have Jeremy Mincey back. The week after that, they get Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy back. This is just one loss for a team that is learning to play without its leaders. Next week, maybe the defense will close the deal.