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Four thoughts on the Cowboys before the Falcons game

We are on to game 2, and Dallas needs a win.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
It sure would be nice to see more of this.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There is much to mull over after the Dallas Cowboys lose a game, especially a close one that they were in until the last couple of plays. Now it’s time to take what we saw from the Los Angeles Rams game, plus some moves this week, and consider what is facing them when the Atlanta Falcons come to AT&T Stadium for the Cowboys’ home opener.

We will learn a lot about the coaching staff

There were clearly some issues, like returning to the bad old days of running a lot on first down and leaving those short passes so wide open for Jared Goff. Something has to be done to get the offensive line working better. Injury adjustments have to be made, and there are far too many for the second game of the year.

Those have to be addressed, and the results on the field will be revealing. While we often rant about in-game adjustments, or their lack of, it is really how the staff corrects and modifies things week to week that are the most crucial. They know what worked and what didn’t. Additionally, now they have actual game video of the opponent to analyze. Of course, the Falcons are in the same place and have the same 0-1 record, meaning that both sides will have a bit of urgency to get off the schneid.

One significant difference for the teams is that Atlanta was soundly beaten by the Seattle Seahawks. The points margin was three scores until a final garbage time TD narrowed the final tally to 38-25 with just over half a minute left to play. So there is probably a greater element of desperation for the Falcons. It could lead to a much better effort, or a lot of unforced errors.

The weak points from game 1

To expand on the brief list above:

  • The offensive line felt the absence of La’el Collins greatly. UDFA rookie Terence Steele, the unexpected starter in the game, had a rough outing. Whether he learned and can show immediate growth or not is going to be the biggest thing for the line. He’s not the only thing offensive line coach Joe Philbin has to worry about, either. Were the struggles against Aaron Donald just because he is almost certainly the best defensive tackle in the league, or signs of real issues with Joe Looney stepping in for the retired Travis Frederick? Connor Williams also bears watching.
  • Tight end now has taken a major hit with the loss of Blake Jarwin for the season. Dalton Schultz had a great camp, but it didn’t carry over to the first game. He was credited by some with two drops. Does this force an adjustment to use the position less, or will the staff try to stick to the original plan? The former is probably the best option when you look at the rest of the offensive skill players, but we will have to see just how much the philosophy has really changed under Mike McCarthy.
  • With Leighton Vander Esch on IR, and Sean Lee now reportedly out for longer than the minimum three weeks, Mike Nolan needs to work some coaching wizardry to get the most out of the severely depleted linebacker corps. Joe Thomas has to fill in for Vander Esch. He is a good option for the team to have, but this is still a likely ongoing problem area.
  • The pass rush failed to get home. That was apparently due to an outstanding game plan and play-calling by Sean McVay and excellent execution by Goff and his receivers. Now they have to see how they can pressure and hopefully bring down Matt Ryan, who is much more of a long-ball thrower. There were some indications that, if Ryan hangs onto the ball longer to find receivers farther down the field, it may change things for the better. But he is throwing to what may be an even more impressive wide receiving trio than the Cowboys in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage. That’s worrisome. And by worrisome, I mean very scary.

Things that went well

  • Dak Prescott was not bad, just under a lot of pressure all game. When he had time, he made some throws. And he was quite effective running the ball as well. One problem, however, was that he did not attack down the field enough. That is something Kellen Moore has to fix. Because the weapons are there.
  • That trio of wide receivers gave us a hint of what they can accomplish. Amari Cooper had one of the quietest 10 catch games you will see, proving how skilled he is at getting open and showing reliability at catching the ball. That was with Jalen Ramsey in coverage at times. Michael Gallup was the long ball threat, averaging 16.7 yards when you add in the YAC. He would have been the hero of the game if the officials were not such fans of great acting by Ramsey. And CeeDee Lamb came in the middle of the trio on most stats, off to a good start on living up to his preseason hype.
  • Ezekiel Elliott was effective, and his receiving touchdown was just a thing of comedic beauty.

The only problem was that Moore seemed to rely on him a bit too much, especially on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half. They tried to take advantage of the Rams not having eight in the box, handing him the ball on all three first downs of the drive, but didn’t capitalize on it. You have to use all the weapons in the proper mix.

  • They got the only takeaway of the game. Plus one wasn’t enough to get the job done, as two is the number when winning becomes the most likely outcome. But it was encouraging just to have an interception after a season where they were so few and far between. The flip side is just as important, as Prescott and the offense protected the ball.

There were some other pleasing developments

  • Aldon Smith was the player of the game, with the lone sack of Goff and a lot of other good plays to go with it. His long absence from the game was not evident in the slightest, and even better, his play should improve as he gets more into the rhythm of an NFL season.
  • Trysten Hill was forced into starting at defensive tackle by the loss of Gerald McCoy in camp, and he stepped up to the task. He was in on four tackles, and the damage of the Los Angeles running game was primarily to the outside. If Hill continues to help prevent Dallas from being gashed up the middle, his premature evaluation as a bit of a bust will become a bit embarrassing for some.
  • Joining his fellow rookie Lamb in showing the camp reports were dead on was Trevon Diggs. He had good coverage all game and the couple of long completions against him were because of very good ball placement, not any failure on his part.
  • Antwaun Woods saw little action, but he had one play that is encouraging. He was the lead fullback for Elliott’s one yard TD plunge, burying his man. Why is that encouraging? It is an example of some out-of-the-box thinking that we were so hoping to see from the staff. Hopefully there will be more to come, with equal success.
  • There was also one roster move that should have a positive impact. Brandon Carr was officially signed to the roster after being elevated from the practice squad for the game. He did not get on the field, which is not hard to understand after coming in so late. It will be exciting to see what he brings to the secondary. Reports are that he asked to be used primarily as a safety, a position where Dallas can use some help.