What a terrible game. We all knew things were going to be tough without All Pro’s Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith, but nobody could have fathomed it would go down the way it did. And to make things worse, All Pro linebacker Sean Lee went down early in the game and everything just went south. Even the owners wouldn’t look at each other. It was tough to watch, but here are my 10 observations from the Cowboys disappointing performance in Atlanta.
1. Get well soon, Tyron!
Not having Smith to protect Dak Prescott’s blind side turned out to be a big problem for the Cowboys offense. Play after play, Chaz Green would allow Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to blow right past him. It takes both hands to tell you how many sacks Clayborn would have on the day. That’s right - he would finish with six sacks! I can’t remember a time where a tackle would play so atrociously and allow that much pressure. Neither could Troy Aikman and he spent the better part of his rookie season on his back.
Prescott came into the game with only 10 sacks on the season, but that number almost doubled as the Falcons would finish with eight sacks on the day. Green would eventually get benched as the team opted to go with Byron Bell. Why did they wait so long?
Adrian Clayborn with his sixth sack of the game. Six! Chaz Green's replacement, Byron Bell, has given up sacks on the two drives in which he has played. Tyron Smith can't get back soon enough for the Cowboys. https://t.co/v5jwttROEP— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) November 13, 2017
Oh, that’s why.
If Smith isn’t able to get back on the field soon this is going to mean bad news for the Cowboys.
2. Disappearance of the running game
With no Zeke in the backfield, everyone wondered what the Cowboys running game would look like. Would they be able to pick up and supplement to some degree what Elliott gave them in the running game? Or would they spin their wheels and show a significant decline in production?
Well, this one is hard to get a feel for. The Cowboys didn’t run the ball well, that part we know. The running backs had a total of 65 yards on 15 carries, with most of them coming from Alfred Morris. In the first half, the offense couldn’t do anything running the ball. Then, to start the second half, the running game came to life as Morris has a few good runs that helped move the ball into Falcons territory. The offensive line was hell-bent on getting Morris through the defense, even if it meant picking him up and carrying him themselves. Morris would have 11 carries for 53 yards and the Cowboys offensive line would carry one-Morris for seven yards.
Running behind Green and Jonathan Cooper was something the Cowboys weren’t too interested in doing as almost everything went to the right.
Something to watch moving forward. The Cowboys knew they couldn't run to the left. Alfred Morris vs ATL. pic.twitter.com/IkOZOhWFes— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) November 13, 2017
Unfortunately, the inability to protect Prescott reared it’s ugly head too many times and sacks completely killed their chances.
3. The Lee factor
You don’t have to tell Cowboys fans how important Sean Lee is. What is mind-boggling though is just how bad they become when Lee is not on the field. It’s a night and day difference.
Update: Cowboys opponents have now scored on 18 of the last 22 possessions when Sean Lee has not been on the field...(games vs Rams/Packers/Falcons)— Bill Jones (@CBS11BillJones) November 12, 2017
That’s just crazy. How can one player make so much of a difference?
4. What can Brown do for you?
Seriously, that’s my question. What can Anthony Brown do? It seems like every game he just keeps getting worse. He gets a penalty in ever game and you can count on some breakdown in coverage at least once.
He started out with a great play that helped set up the Cowboys only score of the game.
Great plays by Anthony Brown & Xavier Woods to create an INT. pic.twitter.com/uNrRyJEUJQ— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) November 12, 2017
Great play by the rookie, Xavier Woods, by the way.
Whether you play him inside or out, Brown is a liability in press man coverage. Way too anxious at the LOS.— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) November 12, 2017
5. Hitch showed up
Despite the struggles this team had on defense, Anthony Hitchens was a missile of a defender against the Falcons. Not only did he take Devonta Freeman out of the game after just his second carry, he would continue to make plays.
He finished with 10 tackles total, including one behind the line of scrimmage.
The Cowboys are going to need for Hitchens to play well, especially if Lee is out for an extended period of time.
6. Chris Jones is the cat’s pajamas
If you’re too young to understand that expression, that’s fine. It’s a stupid expression. I’m mean who puts pajamas on cats? Crazy people, that’s who.
What’s not stupid though, is the great job of punting Chris Jones is doing for this team. We all know how valuable Dan Bailey is, but what Jones brings to this team is very important. It was nice to see Jason Garrett put on his fancy pants and attempt the fake punt. And Chris Jones threw a strike to Brice Butler. Sure, it was negated by a penalty, but Jones turned around and punted the ball that ended up being down at the two-yard line.
P Chris Jones is amazing. Can run, throw and routinely pins teams down inside 10. Real weapon for #DallasCowboys— Michael Strawn (@LifeInCharts) November 12, 2017
7. Tank starts a new streak
Despite not having a sack last week for the first time all season, DeMarcus Lawrence had one of his best games of the year. Well, the second half of the season is underway and Tank didn’t waste any time starting a new streak. With a sack against the Falcons, he is now at 11.5 sacks on the season.
Exclusive look at DeMarcus Lawrence’s new ride: pic.twitter.com/HGZI4iA04r— David Helman (@HelmanDC) November 12, 2017
Unfortunately, it would be the only sack for the Cowboys in the game.
8. Rod Smith has a role on this team
I’m still on board the Morris-train as far as who should be getting the most touches out of the backfield, but it’s still fun to watch Rod Smith in this offense. His presence as a receiver forces defenses to pay attention. He deserves an assist on the Cowboys only touchdown of the game.
Wow Rod Smith has some respect? Two guys would rather chase him than watch the All-Pro QB run into the end zone? Cool— Nick Eatman (@nickeatman) November 12, 2017
9. Still missing you, Bailey
All of our favorites were sorely missed on Sunday and that includes the kicker. While the Cowboys ever-reliable kicker consistently splits it right through the uprights, his replacement does not. In fact, Mike Nugent is consistently hitting the goal post. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. On Sunday, it didn’t.
It was demoralizing to watch the offense give up a sack to stall a potential touchdown scoring drive, but then to come away empty by missing the field goal - that’s just great.
Can we just have our regular guys back?
10. Wild Card watch
The Cowboys needed to win this game if they were to stay within striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles. They didn’t, so now they are three games behind him them in the division race. Sure, there are still seven more football games left to play, but if the Cowboys are going to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, it’s going to come via the wild card.
The good news is - Dallas still sits in good shape. There is nobody running away with these spots. The Cowboys just need to win football games.
Those are my thoughts on the game. How about you?