This game for the Dallas Cowboys could be the game of the year, to come back from a 20-0 deficit in the first quarter to winning 40-39 after recovering an onside kick and a game-winning field goal is crazy. While the win was great, it was far from a pretty, clean game from the Cowboys.
Everyone deserves blame on how this game started and praise for how it ended. So let’s start grading how they all did.
The first quarter of this game and some coaching decisions made in the game are the reason this isn’t an “A” grade. The first quarter of this game was quite possibly the worst quarter of football I’ve seen from a Dak Prescott-led team ever. Three turnovers in the first quarter from Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz was sloppy. Things could have been worse but luckily Tony Pollard’s called fumble was reversed on replay.
Once you got past the rough start you had to deal with Mike McCarthy’s gambles going for it on fourth down with trick plays that didn’t work out. The team, though, was able to get the offense back on track and start chipping away at the Falcons lead. They showed heart and the will to win coming from behind to win a game like that.
Something that was hard to say about some of the teams in the past.
There were the questionable calls like going for it on 4th and 5, and deciding to run the football from a punt formation. The Cowboys coaching staff, though, was able to rally their team and keep them focused on the goal of winning the game. They even made adjustments in the game, taking advantage of the weakened pass rush and linebackers after the injuries to Takkarist McKinley and Foeysade Oluokun as well as the secondary with Ricardo Allen.
Those injuries allowed the Cowboys offense to establish their running game and open the field up for Prescott to pick on the weakened secondary. The defense is still a work in progress as they are still learning a complex defense, but they need to get better fast. They won’t get this lucky again.
I mean if you are looking for the MVP of this game right now you have to give it to Dak Prescott. Throwing for 450 yards and rushing for three touchdowns, you could say he carried this team on his back and willed them to this win. He did make a mistake trying to complete a shovel pass that ended up being a fumble but after that Prescott was lights out.
He was aggressive through the air and when called on he used his legs to put this team in the end zone. No one deserved the win more than Prescott and his team was able to get it for him.
Running Backs: B
All of a sudden Cowboys running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard caught a case of the fumbles, Elliott with two that he lost and Pollard with one that wasn’t really as it was reversed, but it was close. Luckily it only lasted a quarter and things returned to normal as Elliott was able to get the Cowboys running game going with 89 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Elliott wasn’t able to pick up the big runs we are used to, but he did enough to make the Falcons defense respect the running game.
Wide Receivers: A
When the passing game really started to open up, the Cowboys receivers did a great job of getting open for Prescott. This week two receivers, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, went over 100 yards while Gallup ended his night with 58 yards. Any time this team needed to make a play downfield, Cooper and Lamb were there to make the receptions. Cooper, with his amazing one-handed grab, and Lamb’s catch that put the Cowboys into field goal range after the onside kick. The Cowboys receivers are living up to the hype so far this year.
Tight Ends: A
Blake who? When the Cowboys took the field, few people expected Dalton Shultz to come in and fill in for the injured Blake Jarwin the way he did, catching nine passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Shultz came out this week and proved that he’s got the skills to start in this league. Good thing for the Cowboys.
Offensive Line: C
When a team is missing both of their starters at the offensive tackle position you’d have to assume it’s going to be a rough night for the quarterback. Early on in the game, you would have been right, but both undrafted rookie tackles, Terence Steele and Brandon Knight, weathered the storm and in the end were able to give Prescott the time he needed to push the ball down the field. Now the middle of the offensive line, mainly left guard Connor Williams, didn’t have a great game. He was pushed back or beaten on plenty of plays by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Williams needs to play better.
Defensive Line: D
The defensive line did enough last week that you thought they would improve this week. Nope, there was no real pass rush to be found and when quarterback Matt Ryan was forced out of the pocket, it was due to the coverage in the secondary and not the big guys up front. Pass rushers Aldon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence weren’t really a factor this week and Everson Griffen was the only pass rusher to get a sack, adding two tackles for loss. If the Cowboys defense wants to have any success this season they have to play better up front and help this secondary.
Joe Thomas was a revelations this week and was at least the equal of Jaylon Smith in this defense. Smith still seemed a half-step slower in stopping the running game but played well when dropping back into coverage, while Thomas seemed to show up more making plays in the running game. Either way, the Cowboys linebackers stepped it up this week and led the team in tackles with a combined 25 tackles and two tackles for loss.
When your second-round pick is, more often than not, covering one of the best receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones, and Jones ends the night with two catches for 24 yards and no touchdowns, something is working. Though this week it was Chidobe Awuzie who was picked on by Ryan while he was covering the faster Calvin Ridley. This secondary still needs a lot of help from the defensive line, but they held up enough to win. Also doesn’t hurt that a Falcons receiver dropped a huge pass in the game. (Thanks Julio!)
Special Teams: A (for the ending)
Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein made all of his extra point kicks, two field goals, oh, and he pulled off a ridiculous onside kick that confused the Falcons cover team long enough for the Cowboys to fall on the ball. For that, we forget the rest of the stuff like blown fake punts and returning the ball out of the end zone multiple times.
This win came down to which team stayed focused, made plays, and executed them when it counted. That’s the reason the Cowboys won this game, but it won’t get any easier as their next opponent is Russell Wilson and a physical Seattle Seahawks team. If the defensive line doesn’t come to play next week, the Cowboys don’t have a chance.