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Week 2 Primer: Cowboys vs. Falcons

Will the real Dallas Cowboys please stand up?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The first week is in the books, which means it’s adjustments week. Especially without any preseason games this year, each team now has the first clear idea of where their team stands. For both the Cowboys and Falcons, there’s more work to be done than the teams they played in Week 1, since both teams are 0-1 coming into this contest.

For Dallas, expectations were sky high. Dak Prescott had arguably the most loaded offense in the NFL coming off a career year and being buoyed by pass-happy Mike McCarthy’s arrival as the new head coach. The defense also added Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith to help out DeMarcus Lawrence, ratcheting up the expectations on that side of the ball.

But expectations met a very harsh reality on Sunday night, as the Cowboys looked sloppy and inconsistent on offense and the defense couldn’t stop a nose bleed. While the defense settled in after a while, the offense continued to look lost at times, going away from many of the things - such as pre-snap motion and play-action - that made them the league’s second most efficient group last year. The result was a 20-17 loss that has fans everywhere wondering if all the hype is just that.

Hype wasn’t really a thing the Falcons had to contend with, though. It seems like ages ago when Dan Quinn’s Falcons were just one half away from blowing out the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but that was merely four seasons ago. Since then, Quinn has gone 24-24, missing the postseason the last two years in a row. With the 2020 season shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the embattled head coach, expectations were low for this team.

They made some wholesale changes in the offseason to try and get back into playoff contention. On offense, they signed Todd Gurley in free agency and traded for Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst. Atlanta focused much of their draft on defense, selecting cornerback AJ Terrell, defensive tackle Marlon Davidson, linebacker Mykal Walker, and safety Jaylinn Hawkins. They also used free agency to bring in veterans like cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Dante Fowler. It was a clear and concerted effort to revamp a defense that struggled far too often the last two years.

But in their first test of the year, it wasn’t good. Russell Wilson completed 31 of his 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Fowler looked good, combining with defensive end Takkarist McKinley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett for three sacks, but that was it. The secondary got torched, prompting defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to admit he... didn’t prepare for Wilson in the week leading up to the game?

Hopefully he carries over a similar game plan for the Cowboys and focuses on Ezekiel Elliott and Ezekiel Elliott alone. After all, Dak Prescott only threw for one touchdown last week, so no need to worry about him. I promise, Raheem.

Anyway, as bad the Falcons defense was while giving up 38 whole points, Atlanta’s offense showed up to play. Matt Ryan had 450 passing yards, with each of his three receivers crossing 100 for the game, and the unit scored 25 points total. Even Gurley was looking healthy and effective before the Falcons started airing things out more as they fell behind.

Heading into this week, both teams are looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss in their respective season openers. After Atlanta’s explosive performance on offense, this will be an interesting test for Mike Nolan’s defense. They were wholly unprepared for the Rams’ attack, but settled in and made the necessary adjustments despite losing Leighton Vander Esch.

With Vander Esch on injured reserve now, the team is more prepared for his absence. But can they start the game out the way they played most of last week, or will it take another few possessions to get into a groove? Considering this offense is much more explosive and attacks downfield significantly more than Los Angeles, another poor start could dig a hole that Dallas is unable to climb out of.

But more important than that is the offense. Blake Jarwin may be out for the year, but Prescott still has Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb to throw to, in addition to Zeke and Tony Pollard. There’s no shortage of weapons, and thus no excuse to score just 17 points. Against a porous defense that’s already been abused by a lesser offense, the Cowboys need to prove last week was an anomaly and come out strong.

It’s very possible this game could turn into a shootout, with both offenses piling up points. But between these two defenses, only one showed the ability to successfully adjust to the flow of the game, and that bodes well for these Cowboys in their first home game of the year.