Last week the Cowboys played in a way that we have not seen from this team so far this year. To say the way last week transpired was a surprise would be an understatement. Ultimately none of that matters now as we look to turn the page, however what this team does moving forward following that showing will tell us all we need to know as it pertains to the make up of this team.
The Atlanta Falcons roll into town winners of three of there last four games and they come in with some weapons to their disposal that could once again challenge this Cowboys defense. The Cowboys will surely need to keep eyes on Kyle Pitts and Cordarelle Patterson as they look to be two of the bigger game-breakers for this Falcons offense, while also needing their very own offense to get back on track here as well. The Cowboys will head into this game as the favorite, but as we saw last week, it doesn't matter if you don't come ready to play.
Here are five things to watch this week:
1. How will Dak Prescott and this offense respond?
The offense was just bad last week, and that included the star QB. Prescott was missing throws he customarily makes, the wide receivers had uncharacteristic drops, and every opportunity the Cowboys had to take control early, or get back into the game late, they folded and fell flat. We have been hearing all week that this game was a wake up call and that we can expect a more locked in and focused Cowboys team going forward. That statement needs to ring true this week as the offense will need to get going early and often. If this offense can get back to their ways, this game should be what we all want and need as a palate cleanser from last week.
2. Much like the offense, how does this defensive unit respond after being embarrassed?
These are easy things to watch for but frankly you would be lying if you were to say these aren't the exact questions we are all asking ourselves going into Sunday. Nothing will be more important this game, and on the season as a whole, than how both of these units respond after last week. This Falcons offense presents some challenges. Matt Ryan is playing efficiently and they have the ability to score. The Cowboys will need to look to make Ryan uncomfortable and force the ball out quick. The pass rush just like most weeks will be vital to this teams success. Whether that means more of Micah Parsons rushing the passer than so be it, whatever it takes for this defense to get their swagger back.
3. Does Terence Steele have a better showing at left tackle?
Steele’s first start at left tackle was not an inspiring one to say the least. Understanding how difficult it is to make the switch from right to left, we should temper our expectations a bit. Most indications are that Tyron Smith will not suit up for this game as well and it looks to be another opportunity for Steele against the Falcons. The quality in play is surely going to drop off when you don't have your future Hall of Fame left tackle in the game, you just try and make it work with what you have. The Cowboys must find a way to help Steele when needed, whether that be keeping a back in to block, chipping with a tight end, or even finding a way to get creative with our fullback Connor McGovern over there to get a unique 6-man offensive line look. Whatever happens Sunday we will need to watch and see if Steele is up the for the task and shows improvement and if the Cowboys are able to provide some assistance his way to keep the offense flowing.
4. Michael Gallup makes his return.
It looks like for the first time since week one the Cowboys will have all of their three top receivers ready to go. Adding Gallup to the mix will surely help this offense as he as game-breaking ability and is the vertical threat Dak looks to the most. Cedrick Wilson has played great in his absence, but pushing Wilson down to the fourth spot makes things easier for him as well. He may get chances against lesser cornerbacks now, as well as the unit as a whole will be fresher as they have added another big-play threat into the mix allowing them to take breathers when needed without skipping a beat. We knew early on as the season progressed that the Cowboys had a chance to get healthy at the right time, and this looks like to start of it.
5. How do the Cowboys handle Kyle Pitts?
Typically when it has come to facing tight ends the Cowboys would deploy a “Big Nickle” package where they would typically have three safeties on the field, and in Donovan Wilson’s early season absence that saw Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse on the field all at the same time with Kearse usually manning up the tight end. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys defend Pitts as he isn’t your typical tight end, and you wonder if the Cowboys may use Trevon Diggs in this scenario to create a best-on-best situation. Dan Quinn gets creative in his coverages and his pressure packages, so it will definitely be a “game within the game” scenario that will be worth watching.