After a tough loss at the hands of the Rams in Week 1, the Cowboys host the Falcons in their home opener today. Atlanta, like Dallas, comes in at 0-1, losing a high-scoring matchup to the Seahawks a week ago.
This is a huge game for both sides. The Falcons have to face Chicago, Green Bay, Carolina and Minnesota after this week’s game in Dallas. They could easily lose two or three of those games, making getting a win against the Cowboys vital to their playoff chances.
For Dallas, a loss to Atlanta and an 0-2 start would cause quite a stir within Cowboys nation. Furthermore, with the Cowboys having to travel to Seattle in Week 3, they could be starting an 0-3 start right in the face if they can’t prevail today.
Before these two high-flying offenses take the field, check out our three predictions.
1. Calvin Ridley records over 110 yards receiving to go with a touchdown
When you face the Atlanta Falcons, most teams have the same common goal in mind - don’t let Julio Jones wreck the game. The two-time All-Pro has been among the NFL’s elite since he entered the league back in 2011, and you’d be hard pressed to find a wideout better than him in the NFL today.
With the Cowboys being extra concerned about Jones, their efforts to contain him will open the door for another Alabama product to have a big day. That guy is Calvin Ridley. Dallas had some interest in Ridley before the 2018 NFL Draft, but felt their 19th pick was too rich to spend on the wideout.
Since being taken just seven picks after the Dallas selection in that draft, Ridley has made a constant impact in his first two years. The 6’1 wideout has totaled over 800 yards receiving in both of his NFL seasons to go with an extremely impressive 17 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Ridley graded out with a passing grade of over 70 in both of his two seasons in Atlanta. Ridley got off to an extremely fast start this season, catching nine passes for 130 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the opener against Seattle.
Calvin Ridley is an elite wide receiver.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 17, 2020
But luckily for the Cowboys defense, the Atlanta offense runs the ball a ton on early downs. pic.twitter.com/tQDnsijw6v
Ridley will pose a big problem for the Dallas’ secondary on Sunday. In the opener, the young defensive backfield had their struggles. Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown both received PFF coverage scores of below 56 for the game. Dallas is going to have to give safety help over the top to whatever corner is matching up with Julio Jones, giving Ridley an excellent chance to see some one-on-one coverage Sunday. I think he takes big advantage of this, totaling over 100 receiving yards to go with a touchdown.
2. Dak Prescott throws for 335+ yards and three touchdown passes
If the Cowboys win this game, Dak Prescott will have a big day. Despite being without La’el Collins and possibly Tyron Smith, Dallas will need Prescott to drive the ball down the field through the air against this poor Falcons defense. Last week, Russell Wilson lit up the Atlanta defense, going 30 of 34 for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Wilson had the second-highest QBR of any quarterback in Week 1 at 145.0, and rounded out with a 91.3 pass grade according to PFF.
Russell Wilson had him LEANIN pic.twitter.com/oijIBiviEi— RussellJClay (@RussellJClay) September 17, 2020
The Falcons secondary struggled against Seattle. Falcon cornerbacks A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver and Darqueze Dennard all graded out with PFF coverage grades under 50 for the game. The two young corners, Oliver and Terrell, were picked on the most, allowing 12 catches for 180 yards combined. With all the talent the Cowboys have on offense, they really should be able to expose this poor Falcons secondary.
Despite putting up 17 points, Prescott played well in Week 1. The signal-caller was the fifth best preforming quarterback of the week, according to PFF. Even if Smith is out, Prescott will be able to constantly push the ball down the field to his star wideouts. There is no way Atlanta has the manpower in the backend to keep up with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.
If the coaching staff allows him to throw the ball downfield, Prescott should have a huge day on Sunday against this defense.
3. Greg Zuerlein hits two field goals, including a game-winner
This game is going to feature a lot of points and spectacular offensive play, but it will all come down to the leg of Cowboys kicker, Greg Zuerlein. The former Ram got off to a tough start to his Dallas career, missing his first kick, that happened to be against his former team.
The 53-yard kick turned out to be just a bit much for Zuerlein. All reports show that from 45 and under Zuerlein was money during camp, and the biggest play of the game will come from him on Sunday.
The last time the Cowboys and Falcons matched, Brett Maher kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. This Sunday, Dallas will do it to Atlanta once again, this time courtesy of Zuerlein. The former All-Pro will nail a 43-yarder, leading Dallas to their first win of the season.