Was it pretty? No.
Was it extremely exciting? Absolutely.
In what looked to be a wood-shed beating by the Falcons, turned into one of the most exciting games in recent history for the Dallas Cowboys. While the offense started off the first half with four (FOUR) fumbles, the defense held their own after having to defend short fields, and a Falcons offense that was looking for revenge.
Only one problem... Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing games exists. Let’s dive into the coach’s film and see what went right and wrong for Dallas in week two of the 2020 NFL season.
Terrence Steele had plenty of struggles on Sunday. Way too stiff and slow off the ball leads to issues off the right side with Steele in pass protection. pic.twitter.com/CyIv1snVOD— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
Week two of Terrence Steele was eerily similar to week one. If it was an obvious passing down and distance, he struggled, mightily. He wasn’t all bad, and there were times where he stepped up to give Prescott time in the pocket, especially down the stretch, but there is still a lot of growth that needs to be had with Steele and his technique at the position.
Another unsuccessful first down run off of the right side, due to Steele getting beat.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy kept trying to protect themselves by running the football on early downs, but it kept kept hurting themselves due to unsuccessful running plays. pic.twitter.com/sxROdRxR1m
From a technical standpoint, Steele still has quite a ways to go. He gets off-balance far too often with over-aggressive sets in the passing game, and doesn’t have the overall strength, athleticism, or technique right now to recover when his lower half isn’t in synch. He also lacks the ideal functional strength to control blockers at the point of attack, and his technical issues allow for far to many instances where his lack of strength and athleticism, leave him in a bad position against quality defensive lineman, like in the play above.
Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy can’t keep using the running game to mask the offensive tackle issues, when it’s leading to unsuccessful plays on first and second down, and forcing the Cowboys offense into obvious passing downs and distances.
There were multiple times on Sunday where receivers were wide open off of play-action fakes. This is unacceptable from the defense. pic.twitter.com/IuJhc2bC8e— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
The Falcons did an excellent job of using the play-action game to create confusion among the Cowboys defenders early in the game. Here’s a perfect example of it. While we often look to place blame on a certain player or coach, sometimes you have to just tip your cap to the coordinator on the other sideline, and this is an instance here. Really nice design from Dirk Koetter to bring Julio Jones all the way across the middle of the field, pulling Chidobe Awuzie away from the play-side portion of the field, after Hayden Hurst sells his block attempt then leaks out for one of the easiest touchdowns you’ll see.
Another breakdown in communication in the secondary, as I don't think the coverage called for triple teaming Russell Gage. pic.twitter.com/3wiox4mT7F— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
Mike Nolan is not going to be happy watching this defensive performance, and it’s due to the many plays that showed up on tape just like the two above. The secondary really struggled to communicate when passing receivers off and playing quarters coverage on Sunday against the Falcons passing game. Far too many instances where Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, or Julio Jones were left wide open without a defender in sight. The Cowboys defensive scheme is a little more in-depth from years in the past, but so far a lot of the splash plays from opposing offenses have come due to lack of communication, and lack of pressure from the defensive line.
Big play off the free play from Dak and CeeDee Lamb. pic.twitter.com/cjA94OXYeo— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
One of the things about Dak Prescott’s game we don’t talk about enough is his ability to create big plays on free plays, something a lot of NFL quarterbacks struggle with. Prescott does an excellent job of making an aggressive throw to CeeDee Lamb across the middle of the field here, after noticing that the Falcons were offsides and they have a free play to run. Prescott could have thrown this ball up for a 50/50 play to one of his outside receivers, but instead takes advantage of a matchup, and picks up some big-time yardage on a play with zero risk involved.
More of this please.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
Pre-snap motion. Play-action. Down the field shots.
More. Of. This. pic.twitter.com/k13PsJBXYL
Another big-time pitch-and-catch from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper to really get to momentum going. A lot of good to take away from this play before the football is even snapped. The Cowboys are in 12-personnel on 2nd-and-2, a distance defenses would normally expect a run. They use the play-action fake to sell the second down run, and it sets Amari Cooper up in a great position to win deep down the field with his post-route. Prescott puts this football on a rope while taking a massive shot in the pocket, and Cooper makes a heck of a grab hauling this one in. On broadcast, it looked like Prescott overshot Cooper by just a bit, but given that he was getting crushed at the release, this was a very well thrown ball to Cooper, and even better catch to haul it in.
One of the underrated plays in the game.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
Dak scrambles out of pressure and delivers a perfect ball to Bell on the sideline. This is elite level QB play.
They would go on to score six plays later. pic.twitter.com/jPTL16Qx7Y
No Blake Jarwin? No problem for Dak Prescott, as he got into a groove early with Dalton Schultz and Blake Bell. This play in the fourth quarter was one of my favorite plays of the game from Prescott, and really highlights his growth as a quarterback over the last few seasons. Prescott has always been good at throwing on the run, but at times has struggled avoiding pressure and/or sacks to be able to make these types of plays. Prescott does an excellent job of recognizing his initial throwing window closing with Dante Fowler getting into his lane, he quickly pulls the ball down, escapes the incoming pressure, and delivers a beautiful ball to Blake Bell with the perfect amount of touch. Just a super high-level play from Prescott to keep the chains moving.
PERFECT ball placement on the TD to Schultz. Releases the football before Schultz gets to his break, and puts it in the only spot he can to give Schultz a chance without the defender impacting the play. pic.twitter.com/Ug8XcVPZtP— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
The touchdown to Dalton Schultz was another elite-level play from Prescott, and it really started to get the offense going late in the fourth. This throw shows everything you would want to see from a quarterback. Anticipation, ball placement, velocity, and understanding defender’s leverage to give your receiver the only chance at making a play on the football. Dalton Schultz came up big in week two, and took advantage of an opportunity not many wanted him to have. He’ll need to continue to prove himself throughout the season, but you have to be intrigued by his abilities as a receiver, blocker, and getting yards after the catch after his week two performance.
The Ass-Cheek Special. pic.twitter.com/kHLA17Kxfg— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 22, 2020
The biggest play of the game came on the bomb to Michael Gallup, where his butt-cheek saved the game. Another ball thrown by Prescott where the placement just can’t get much better than it is. Ball is thrown high and away from the defender, which gives Gallup the only chance at making a play on the football. Gallup has turned into one of the better 50/50 receivers in the league, and this play is just another example of the type of receiver Gallup has blossomed into over the last two years. This play is also made possible by Prescott holding the middle-of-the-field safety with his eyes, as well as the zone-corner which allows Gallup to win position along the sideline to make the catch that probably fueled the Cowboys to victory.
There’s not much to say about this throw from Dak Prescott. The Cowboys have a special man under center.
The offense still has a long ways to go from a play-calling and scheme perspective, as they are below average in terms of early-down passing, rushing efficiency, and near the bottom of the league in terms of pre-snap motion, and motion at the snap. If they can turn a few of these things around in the coming weeks, it’s forty-burger season.