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After further review: Unlikely heroes stepped up in a big way in the Cowboys win over the Falcons

Looking at the tape shows even more of a reason to be happy about this Cowboys roster.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys secured an improbable come from behind win on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. This game was filled with some unlikely heroes as the reserves stepped up in a big way. From two young undrafted tackles thrown into the starting lineup, to some late-round draft picks making strong contributions, there were plenty of things on tape that Cowboys fans should be happy about. Let’s check out some clips as we examine what we have learned after further review.

Apparently Schultz is quite the pass-catcher

Dalton Schultz shocked us all when he turned out to be Dak Prescott’s favorite target on Sunday. He hauled down nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. It’s been three years since a Cowboys tight end has caught that many passes. And with receivers like Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb on this offense, how was it that Schultz became so involved in the offense?

In a game that featured a compromised Cowboys offensive line, it was crucial to get the ball out quickly, and Schultz provided plenty of opportunities to do just that. The third-year tight end did a great job sitting down in his spot right where Prescott expected him to be. His footwork was excellent as he stopped on a dime with ready hands for a perfectly thrown strike. He and Prescott played a game of catch quite frequently as the Falcons defense gave away too much space. This is what you can expect with a talented trio of receivers who can stretch the field and the result was a tight end who could move the chains.

One great thing about Schultz is that he’s also an effective blocker. He did such a great job as a receiver that we forgot that blocking is his specialty. Schultz helped out along the edge, which set the table for quick releases that allowed him to detach uncovered. With Dak rolling to his right, this recipe worked out quite well.

But the most surprising thing from Schultz was his sure-handedness. Who would’ve guessed he had such reliable hands? On his touchdown reception, he showed what Mike McCarthy described as “late hands” where he didn’t reach out for the ball until the last second. As you can see, this caused the defender to be late in getting his hands up to defend the pass. That’s some pretty darn good reflexes for a guy who hasn’t been known for his hands.

The linebacker group is less of a concern thanks to Joe Thomas

The Cowboys linebackers have been able to keep their heads above water in recent years thanks to some added depth. In 2018 when Sean Lee went down, no problem. They had Leighton Vander Esch. And then last season when LVE went down, it was Lee who stepped in and filled the void. However, this season has been a little different as both Vander Esch and Lee are out with injuries. Suddenly, there is cause for concern at the linebacker position.

But is there really? After the way Joe Thomas played on Sunday, I profess that there is not. Thomas played on 75 defensive snaps against the Falcons, which was the most he’s ever played in a game throughout his career. He used that time to record 12 tackles, also a career high. Simply put, he was all over the place.

Thomas doesn’t have the strength to handle some of the physical pounding of the position, but his relentless pursuit really showed up on tape. He darts through the lane, and what he lacks in mass, he makes up with force due to building up that speed. He showed great instincts, reacted fast, and was a missile to the ball-carrier.

And let’s not forget his strength - coverage. Whether it was shadowing receivers or running down ball-carriers, Thomas exhibited great hustle on Sunday.

Zeke is one tough SOB

There is no point spending a lot of time on something we all know already, but it’s just good to appreciate the toughness of Ezekiel Elliott. He runs with such a low center of gravity and meets the defender with force as those tree trunk legs keep churning away. It’s really impressive how he maximizes his runs by finishing so strong. His 4.0 yards per carry doesn’t wow you, but it’s such a punishing effort and it’s an important component of this Cowboys offense.

Despite how much pounding he takes, he remains one of the most resilient running backs in the league. Availability is ability. There are eight running backs in the league that make at least $12 million per season. When Christian McCaffrey misses his first career game on Sunday, Elliott will be the only one of the eight who has never missed a game due to injury.

Trysten keeps showing up

This feels like the appropriate time to offer up my deepest apologies for ever doubting the Cowboys young defensive tackle. Trysten Hill continues to show significant improvement in year two. The coaching staff named him the starter to open the season, and now we can see why. While Hill hasn’t made any highlight reels yet, if you look closely, he’s wrecking things. He’s quick out of his stance, does a great job using his hands to shed blocks, and keeps finding his way into the backfield. We got to give the kid credit as he’s playing well and has the athletic upside to be a special player down the road.

Xavier is quietly playing well at safety

The defense has had their share of troubles in the first two weeks, and after each game the cry comes for the Cowboys to go out and get Earl Thomas. Clearly, the coaching staff likes what they have already, and a big part of that is the play of Xavier Woods. He’s not a guy people are talking about very much, but he keeps showing up on tape. Woods shows good discipline and is making good decisions where to attack. He’s a willing tackler, and doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself to make the play. His tackle in the backfield on the Falcons’ last possession was helpful in forcing them to punt the ball away, giving the Cowboys a inkling of hope.

Admirable job by the backup tackles

Things weren’t perfect for UDFA tackles Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, but both these guys did a good job on Sunday. Yes, Steele had a couple penalties and had a whiff here or there, but when you watch the tape, there was a lot of nice plays by these young players. Steele showcased his power by flooring Atlanta’s defensive linemen on a couple of occasions. In a game where both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins were out of action, you have to be pleased with the performance of these backups.

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