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Looking Deep Into The Cowboys Failure In The 39-28 Loss To The Falcons

Cowboys never challenged the Falcons deep, leaving the the offense vulnerable once Atlanta adjusted.

The throws were too short to keep the Falcons honest.
The throws were too short to keep the Falcons honest.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In the very disappointing 39-28 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys by the Atlanta Falcons, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talked late in the game about how Brandon Weeden never threw the ball deep. This allowed the Falcons to stack the box and shut down the running attack. They had a point, since the Dallas running back committee totaled up 131 yards rushing before halftime, but were held to minus yardage after.

However, Buck and Aikman were wrong about one thing - but it just proves how right their larger point was.

If you go back to a play-by-play recap of the game, like the one at ESPN, you will see this on the second play of the game.

(14:12) B.Weeden pass incomplete deep left to T.Williams. PENALTY on ATL-R.Alford, Face Mask (15 Yards), 15 yards, enforced at DAL 48 - No Play.

One deep ball, on the opening drive. It would have gone down as an incompletion, except for the penalty. On the next play, Joseph Randle would have his longest run of the day, going 27 yards for his first of three touchdowns. All of the Cowboys scores would could via the ground, with Darren McFadden tossing in one of his own. All of the scoring drives featured effective running and short passes, with Weeden only having one interception before halftime to mar his performance.

The Cowboys built a 28-14 lead before the Falcons started their comeback with a field goal to finish the first half. Then Dallas went completely cold on offense. Both those seeming disparate things can, at least to me, be traced back to that one deep pass attempt.

On that play, Dallas forced Atlanta to respect the deep pass. This opened up the running game and all those short passes that Weeden was completing so effectively. But he did not try to go deep again with the exception of one pass attempt to Jason Witten that was too high in the second half. Atlanta noticed this, and brought extra defenders up close to the line where they could both shut down the run and clog up the passing lanes. They quit respecting the deep pass, the Cowboys did not challenge them deep, and the result was a very painful loss after such a promising start.

That pretty much sums it up. With the offense no longer scoring points and controlling the clock, the Falcons just kept pounding  on the defense with Davonte Freeman and gashing the secondary with Julio Jones. Except for one series during the first half, the D was able to hold up. But they needed the offense to control the ball more after halftime. It turned into a shootout, which was unexpected. The Cowboys appeared to come into the game with a plan to fight a low-scoring affair. When it went another direction, it does not look like the coaches were ready.

It is hard to say if there were any deep passes called and Weeden just went into mega-checkdown mode, or if the play calling was at fault. Whichever it was, that needs to be corrected. Weeden has plenty of arm to go deep, but it does not good if he never winds up and lets fly. It may have changed the game completely if he had tested the Falcons deep a couple of times in the second quarter, even if he had not competed the passes. Just that threat might have kept them from shutting down the running game. More ball control would have helped the defense. It may be something of an oversimplification, but the game may have turned on that one pass being the only meaningful attempt at a deep ball.

This can be fixed. If the long ball is not being called by the staff, they need to work it into the game plan. If Weeden is just checking down on everything, he can either change that or the team can always go with Matt Cassel. But there are solutions. When the other team is putting eight men in the box, Terrance Williams is going to see single coverage, plus the team can at least throw towards Devin Street or Brice Butler. It just cannot leave the wide receivers completely out of the equation. Weeden only completed passes to four receivers. That is not going to cut it.

Despite the loss, the Cowboys still lead the NFC East. But the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants both got into the win column this week. Dallas squandered both a first half lead and a chance to maintain a two game cushion. Next up are the struggling New Orleans Saints, who may be without Drew Brees as he tries to recover from what may be a rotator cuff strain in his throwing arm. Things have gotten a little tougher, but help is on the way. There were not any serious injuries reported for a change (so far, but we know what happened with Jeremy Mincey last week). But the biggest thing the team has to do is find a way to use the entire field on offense. If they can do this, they can right this ship. Otherwise, they may be asking even Tony Romo to do too much once he comes back from his fractured clavicle.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB


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