It was exactly what the Dallas Cowboys needed. They came off the horribly disappointing loss to the Denver Broncos and won against the Atlanta Falcons. But clearly “won” does not adequately describe the complete and absolute domination we saw at AT&T Stadium. The offense was on fire and the defense had three takeaways while almost completely shutting down Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense. Even the special teams had nearly everything go right.
After the Broncos debacle, there was much talk about how the Cowboys had been exposed and Vic Fangio had revealed the blueprint for beating them. Some of us speculated that this was just one of those games that happen, with Dak Prescott a bit rusty after his latest injury and the offensive line having to shuffle things around again. The theory was that they would take that kick to the head last game and come in angry and focused. There are going to be a lot of “told you so’s” this week, because that is exactly what happened.
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That is where the short memory comes in. That has long been an accepted principle for the players. A quarterback who just threw a pick has to come out the next series and not be afraid to throw. One who fumbles or drops a pass has to focus on getting it right next time. For defensive backs, it is a vital part of their makeup since they almost always get beat at some point during a game.
But for the Cowboys, they had to forget almost everything about last week. That is just what both the coaching staff and players did, with a record setting result.
Dallas' 29 points in the second quarter of today's game against Atlanta are the most ever scored by a Cowboys team in any quarter in franchise history.— Dallas Cowboys Public Relations (@DallasCowboysPR) November 14, 2021
Let’s go through some of the most significant cases of looking ahead and not back from this game.
Prior to the fourth-quarter drives when the game was well out of reach, the performance last week was one of, and possibly the worst, of Dak Prescott’s career. They only converted one of nine third downs to that point. At halftime, he had only five of fourteen attempts for just 75 yards. After having to recover from the calf injury he sustained in the last game before the bye, which led him to sit out the one immediately afterwards, he was clearly rusty and discussed during the week how his footwork was off.
While he had a couple of errant throws early, it did not take him long to get to full speed in this one, finishing with 24 completions on 31 attempts for 296 yards and two touchdowns - in three quarters of play, as Cooper Rush came in to protect the starter in the final period. That reputed “blueprint” must have been very hard to read, as the Falcons had no answers. It was the kind of dominant performance we have come to expect from Prescott. He, like all the rest of the team, was not hindered at all by the previous terrible outing.
Cleaning up the rest of the mistakes
Prescott got a lot of help from his offensive teammates. There were still a couple of drops, but obviously they were not the drive crippling kind, as Dallas would only have one punt the first half, scoring a touchdown on every other possession. Prescott and Rush would find ten different receivers. CeeDee Lamb would lead them with 94 yards on six catches, including both the passing scores. Also, Michael Gallup was back after his injury early this season, and made an immediate impact with 42 yards, including one of his patented toe tappers.
Ezekiel Elliott had to exercise some of the short term forgetfulness as well this game, falling victim to the only giveaway the Cowboys had all game, a perfectly executed “Peanut punch” from behind. It came after he had already scored two rushing touchdowns. Neither he nor Tony Pollard would have big days, just amassing 83 yards between them, but they still had some tough runs to help the cause.
But no one deserves more mention than Terence Steele. After he looked simply miserable in his first game at left tackle to fill in for Tyron Smith, he was significantly better. Prescott had excellent pass protection most of the game, and would not be sacked. Atlanta only had two quarterback hits all game. The evidence is persuasive that Steele and the rest of the line just needed some reps to get things back on track. It was a part of the game that cannot be undervalued.
The defense stood tall as well
After having trouble stopping anything the previous Sunday, the defense flipped the script. They held the Falcons to just one third-down conversion out of eleven opportunities. Additionally they did not let Atlanta convert either fourth down they tried, including one on their second possession that the visitors did not seem to put behind them at all. They were helped a great deal by the time of possession also reversing itself this week. Dallas held the ball for 37:41 this game, giving the defenders plenty of time to catch their breath while really running the Atlanta defense ragged.
And the interceptions were back, with emphasis. Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Trevon Diggs all snagged passes, with Brown’s juggling takeaway the best of the trio. Further, Lewis almost singlehandedly stopped one drive with back-to-back pass breakups. They were not the only heroes on that side of the ball. Dorance Armstrong was called on to help alleviate the absence of the injured Randy Gregory. He responded with the best game of his career, notching a sack, three total tackles, and three QB hits. And that doesn’t include his biggest play of the game, which will show up in just a bit.
Meanwhile, Micah Parsons just kept doing Micah Parsons things. He led all Dallas tacklers with six, all solo, including a sack and a forced fumble. He was the one bright spot for the team against Denver. This week, he was just one of very many.
Finally, a special shoutout to Trysten Hill. After going over a year between games, he came back and seemed to really shore up the run defense, contributing two tackles along the way. That is another kind of selective forgetfulness, going out and playing well after such a long layoff. Maybe he got some inspiration from his quarterback, who as you might have head did something much the same to start this season.
Special teams lived up to their name
They didn’t have much to do with so many Falcons drives ending in turnovers, both interceptions and by downs. But they stood out brilliantly at the end of the first half as Armstrong got through for a textbook punt block.
How to properly go after the kick without drawing a roughing penalty, courtesy of Dorance Armstrong. pic.twitter.com/3YD23qTsFH— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 14, 2021
This time, unlike the ill-fated block against the Broncos, the ball would not pass the line of scrimmage, instead bouncing back toward the end zone. Nahshon Wright would atone for his “muff” of last week by recovering the ball for a touchdown to stake the Cowboys to an insurmountable 36-3 lead. The only negative thing was that the score would likely have been 28-3 at half without that play, which would have been a troll of epic proportions.
The coaching staff didn’t blink
Many staffs might have been a bit gun-shy after failing to convert a single one of the fourth downs a week prior. But McCarthy did not change his aggressive approach one bit. It may have been encouraged by the fact placekicker Lirim Hajrullahu was making his first NFL appearance. Even had Greg Zuerlein been playing, McCarthy probably would have still gone for it all three times he did. Dallas converted them all, which greatly helped them build the huge lead.
John Fassel, Kellen Moore, and Dan Quinn also stuck to their established approaches. Fassel has made it clear he is going to dial up block attempts during games. Moore rolled out a nifty gadget play that was unfortunately called back by a penalty. And Quinn just throttled the Atlanta offense, as the Cowboys more than doubled the yardage the Falcons could muster. If there was anything that smacked in the least of conservatism, it was sitting Prescott and many of the other starters in the fourth quarter. That is just the reward you get when you are cruising to the final whistle with a 40-point lead.
An interesting note to the large number of substitutions down the stretch was that we now know who the backup center is. Connor McGovern came in after Tyler Biadasz left with what does not appear to be a significant injury, and seemed quite capable. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to fill in much there, because Moore continued to use him as a really, really big fullback, to good effect.
If you watched this game without knowing it beforehand, there is no way you would think this team got so badly blown out just seven days prior. There was zero hangover from that. This team stuck to its nature by just putting that all behind them and reaped the benefits.