There are so many different narratives to follow in this one. Dan Quinn facing his former team for the first time; an opportunity to show this team can produce with a backup left tackle against the Falcons; CeeDee Lamb going up against cornerback A.J. Terrell, whom Atlanta drafted one spot ahead of him; playing without Greg Zuerlein, who saved the day against this team last year, or Randy Gregory; and a general need to atone for last week’s embarrassing output against the Broncos.
It’s more than just a get right game, though. This is the Cowboys’ last game before they embark on the same scheduling gauntlet they do every year at this time: three games in 12 days. After this week, the Cowboys will travel to Kansas City, fly home to play the Raiders four days later, and then fly to New Orleans to play the Saints one week later.
All three of those games are winnable for Dallas, but none will be easy. The time frame in which they’ll all be played makes things that much harder, so it’s important for the Cowboys to take care of business this week and give themselves a little confidence before heading into that gauntlet. Speaking of confidence, how confident are our writers after that Broncos game?
When Atlanta has the ball
Ride the safeties to victory
Technically speaking, the Falcons play 11 personnel at the lowest rate in the NFL. That’s a bit misleading, though, because sensational rookie tight end Kyle Pitts essentially doubles as a receiver and electric running back Cordarrelle Patterson is a former receiver himself and playing the way Jason Garrett once envisioned Tavon Austin playing in Dallas.
Dan Quinn can’t rely on the simple matchup numbers, because the Falcons’ 12 personnel is more like 11 personnel in reality. Instead, he should utilize his deep rotation of safeties to ensure he’s got everyone covered. Let Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson play close to the line of scrimmage while Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker prevent the deeper shots.
From a pass rush standpoint, losing Gregory hurts. But the Falcons are uniquely susceptible to attacks up the middle. Left guard Jalen Mayfield is a rookie, center Matt Hennessy is in his first year as a starter, and right guard Chris Lindstrom has yet to play two season’s worth of games. They’re young and inexperienced, so expect Quinn to try and take advantage with Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins, and bringing Micah Parsons as an A-gap blitzer to disrupt things for Matt Ryan, who’s quietly been surging in recent weeks.
When Dallas has the ball
Get back into a rhythm
Nothing seemed to go right for the Cowboys, especially on offense, last week. It wasn’t anything that the Broncos did schematically as plenty of guys got open, Dak Prescott just missed guys or receivers dropped passes. As both Prescott and Mike McCarthy have said, the hope is that another team tries that blueprint because the Cowboys will take advantage of it.
Perhaps Atlanta will be the first team to do so, but it would mean a major deviation from defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ usual plan of attack. No defense in the NFL runs more split-safety looks than this Falcons group, and Pees has demonstrated a reliance on zone coverage to a degree this offense hasn’t seen since the Eagles game in Week 3. That game went well for Prescott.
Getting Michael Gallup back is huge too, as the vertical threat will open things up underneath for Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Dalton Schultz. The biggest thing, though, is just to get back into the rhythm these guys had been playing with all year. The Falcons’ poor defense - they’re 31st in defensive DVOA - will present plenty of opportunities, so if Prescott and company can get their groove back, things could get out of hand in a good way.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
I’m going on the assumption that the Cowboys used up just about all the bad luck for the rest of the season against the Broncos, and are going to look a lot more like the team that amassed the six game winning streak. I particularly think Dak will bounce back big the way he has after previous stinkers from him. The offensive line should be a bit more effective after a game playing in the non-Tyron configuration, and I expect Dan Quinn is going to make the defense sick of working on tackling fundamentals. In other words, I think the Cowboys will look like we expected them to last week.
Give me Dallas beating the Falcons 38-23.
After last weeks debacle against Denver, the Cowboys are going to take out some pent-up frustration on the Falcons this week. The Falcons have arguably the worst pass-rush in football, giving the Dallas offense a huge advantage. I see the Cowboys coming out red hot from the start, taking an early double-digit lead and never looking back. Dak tosses three TD passes and the defense records a pix-six off Matt Ryan in a big win.
Give me the Cowboys big, 31-17.
The Cowboys were humbled last week, there’s no two ways about it. The good news is they didn’t lose much ground in the conference but likely gained the reality check they needed after multiple weeks of overcoming slow starts and sloppy play to escape with victories.Atlanta’s record might not inspire fear on its own but it’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked for a second. It’s more than just Kyle Pitts and a resurgent Matt Ryan after a slow start. Last week they went to New Orleans and beat a good Saints defense behind nearly 350 yards from Ryan and a big day from Cordarrelle Patterson.
For the Cowboys, they played their worst game of the season against Denver, just one week after their best performance of the season arguably in Minnesota. Sure, the team will be without Randy Gregory, and Tank Lawrence is still a couple of weeks away, but all that means is you can expect a healthy dose of Micah Parsons on the pass rushing. With a renewed chip on their shoulder and needing some guys to step up, I expect the team to do exact that in a close one.
This is the perfect game for the Cowboys to get right. While Cordarrelle Patterson is having an excellent season as a gadget back, his production isn’t coming in the ground game, and Mike Davis is nothing special. Dallas should be able to contain the rushing attack. The Falcons will be able to gain yards through the air, but if you treat Kyle Pitts as a receiver instead of a tight end, their pass-catching options are limited. Expect the defense to look formattable again, especially with Dan Quinn coaching a revenge game.
On offense, if the Cowboys don’t surpass 28 points there will be reason to panic. Atlanta is balanced on defense, and by that I mean they have a poor run defense balanced with an equally bad pass defense. AJ Terrell is a good coverage corner, but if Dak avoids him, he should have no problem through the air. Due to AJ Terrell likely following either CeeDee or Amari, expect the return of Michael Gallup to be a big one. There is little chance Terrell is on Gallup, meaning that he will be open all day. The Cowboys should not have a problem in this one, and I expect a big day on both sides of the ball.
Cowboys 38, Falcons 28 (with 10 of Atlanta’s points coming in garbage time).
The Cowboys need a bounce back game in the worst way. They need to come out there Sunday and show that the Broncos game was a one off and not the start of a trend. I don’t think it is too exaggerated to say this Falcons game could be a pivotal moment in this teams season. I look for Dak and the offense to get back on track. With the addition of Michael Gallup back in the mix, Dak will have all of his wide receiver options for the first time since week one, and I think the offense will get things rolling.
Tyron Smith not playing is a concern but I think this staff will scheme up ways to protect Steele and allow Dak the time needed to make plays. I see this defense playing with their edge again, and I see them finding a way to get back to flying around the football creating stops and turnovers. The loss of Randy Gregory hurts, but this team will get creative in how they attack, and they will bend a little but won’t ultimately break.
Give me a final score of Dallas 34 and the Falcons 20.
Addition by subtraction. The Dallas Cowboys will be better offensively with the return of Michael Gallup this week, but defensively take a step back after Randy Gregory was placed on injured reserve due to a calf strain. Without their best pass rusher, the Cowboys offense will need to step up their game even more to outscore their opponents.
As luck would have it, at least for this week, they should be able to do that against the Atlanta Falcons. A.J. Terrell and Fabian Moreau are talented cornerbacks, but they can’t cover everybody. Someone’s going to be open, and if his prediction holds up, Dak Prescott should be able to find the open receiver and do some serious damage in the passing game.
Final score prediction: 35-24, Cowboys.
I’ve been waiting for this game and salivating at the mouth for what this Kellen/Dak offense can do against a very bad Falcons defense. Unless Prescott has a serious case of the yips, there is no scenario where I don’t see the Cowboys offense lighting it up.
And considering the unit has something to prove after last week’s struggles, all signs are pointing to a deluxe 40 burger. Speaking of something to prove, expect Dan Quinn to give his former team a lot of different looks and bring in some extra blitz’s just because he can. The defense will play a lot better overall and take advantage of another opportunistic game stript. Cowboys run away with this one.
Cowboys 48, Falcons 17.
Obviously I’m interested to see how this team responds after last week, but the matchup I’m most specifically interested in comes on special teams. John Fassel’s group nearly made a game-changing play last week, and now they’re without Greg Zuerlein and facing a dangerous punt returner in Cordarrelle Patterson. It’ll be interesting to see how Fassel tries to even the playing field in this one.
As for the team as a whole, I’m expecting a return to dominance. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll officially be time to hit the panic button, but I still believe these Cowboys are different than the ones we’ve seen before. I expect an especially big performance from Dak Prescott and at least one defensive takeaway for Dallas to ice this thing.
Cowboys win 41-27.