Cowboys 10 Takes: The Task of Fixing What The Falcons Just Broke

Cowboys 10 Takes: The Task of Fixing What The Falcons Just Broke ...

DAL vs ATL Observations
1. Brandon Weeden wasn't bad. He did - for the most part - what you expect from a backup QB. ... "bus-driver'' stuff.
Weeden completed 22 of 26 passes, although most of his completions were on short throws and dump-offs, so his completion % was inflated. Weeden was able to drive the offense down the field and put up 28 points, which should be enough to win the game with this defense. Sadly, it wasn't since the defense was unable to stop Atlanta in the 2nd half. As sharp as Weeden was, he also had several opportunities to put the game away but made questionable decisions that prevented them from doing so. He threw an interception in the 2nd quarter that led to a Falcons touchdown. He also took a couple of really bad sacks later in the game instead of throwing the ball away. And the Witten throw ... arg.
Most of Weeden's play were positive but the few negative plays really hurt. Weeden told reporters this week that he's not going to try to be Tony Romo but on his sacks/interception, he was doing just that. He left the pocket and tried to make something out of nothing, which isn't Weeden's game. Weeden needs to remember that he's Brandon Weeden. If a play isn't there, throw the ball away. Very few quarterbacks are capable of pulling off Romo's magic when plays break down and when other QB's attempt it, the end results aren't pretty.
“Overall, I thought I was efficient,” Weeden said, a statement that shouldn't get miscontrued. But probably will.
Overall, Weeden didn't win the game but he didn't lose it, either. (Any more than any of the other 45 active Cowboys.)  You can't expect much more from a backup quarterback -- and that includes Matt Cassel, destined to be the most popular clipboard carrier in DFW if the Cowboys flop like this again. There are definitely some things that need improvement -- Fish points out on 105.3 The Fan today that Cowboys coaches think Weeden missed on a few downfield chances -- but the defense must do a better job of carrying this offense while Romo is sidelined. 
2. A lot of fans are upset that Weeden didn't throw downfield more often, but in addition to his own conservatism regarding downfield decisions, and in addition to a Falcons' bend-but-don't-break coverage strategy -- his outside receivers simply weren't able to get open all day. Terrance Williams was targeted twice, both of which were incompletions - including a 4th down drop on the Cowboys final drive of the game. Dez will be out for a while so Williams, Street and Butler will need to find ways to get open to help Weeden. As good as Weeden is at throwing to Dunbar and Beasley a few yards down field, defenses are going to catch on and shut those guys down as long as he doesn't have a deep threat to throw to.
In this gameplan for Atlanta: Their best CB on T-Will and take that threat away. In this gameplan for Dallas: Hit the Falcons D in their vulnerable spot, the short passing game. Both unfolded as predicted. ... in the end, in Atlanta's favor.
3. As disappointing as the final score was, the game started out very promising for the Cowboys. Joseph Randle had 2 carries for 65 yards on the opening drive, including a 37 yard touchdown run. However, the defense was able to focus in on stopping the run without much of a passing threat and Randle finished the day with 87 yard son 14 carries. Still it was encouraging to see the Cowboys return to running the ball with success. The team finished with 127 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Lots of good here in the first half ...
Fun fact: Randle's 3 rushing touchdowns vs Atlanta is the same number of rushing touchdowns he had in all of 2014. Also, 3 of his last 6 TD's have been from 30+ yards out. To put that into perspective, DeMarco Murray has just one 30+ yard touchdown in his entire career and that was way back in 2011. Also, Darren McFadden's touchdown was his first since week 6 of the 2014 season.
Now, what merits analysis: A third-and-1 in which Joe danced instead of plunged. He "left meat on the bone,'' using his own vernacular.
"I don't know if you saw the early part of the game,'' coach Jassett Garrett said. "[Randle] was obviously fantastic."
OK. Nevertheless, Fish is on the job of investigating whether that error (not that Joe was alone in erring on this play) is enough for there to be at least a slight change in the way Dallas uses its RBs.
4. Speaking of RB's, Lance Dunbar had another big game through the air, yet again. Dunbar finished with 10 catches for 100 yards - giving him 21 catches for 215 yards this season. Dunbar currently leads all RB's in receptions and receiving yards and is on pace 1,146 receiving yards, which would be the 2nd most by a RB in NFL history and the most since 1962. He's also on pace for 112 receptions, which would be the most by a RB in NFL history and would make him one of 4 RB's to reach 100 receptions in a season. 
He's a weapon. But he can't be your only weapon.
5. All week leading up to the game, the national media was speculating whether or not Jason Witten would play vs the Falcons after suffering two sprained ankles and a sprained knee vs the Eagles. If you've followed Jason Witten's career, however, you knew better than to question his game-day status.
Witten has played with a broken jaw and a lacerated spleen. It'll take more than a few sprains to keep him out. Witten played and had a solid day - recording 6 catches for 65 yards. Through 3 games this season, Witten is currently on pace for 112 catches, which would break his own NFL record of receptions by a TE in a single season (110). Witten continues to defy father time by performing at a consistently high level year in and year out. However, Witten has 3 false start penalties this year - one in each game so far. He had just 6 penalties all of last season. That's something that a savvy veteran like Witten shouldn't be doing. ... one of the many, many things that need to be cleaned up for next Sunday night in New Orleans.
6. Now onto the defense. After allowing just 2 touchdowns in the first 2 games, the Cowboys gave up 5 touchdowns to the Falcons - 2 passing and 3 rushing. They also gave up 164 receiving yards to Julio Jones and 141 rushing yards to Devonta Freeman. Now, as bad as the defense was - especially in the 2nd half - it's hard to overcome the number of losses this unit has suffered. I'm not trying to make any excuses, but there comes a point when "next man up" doesn't even qualify because you don't have any more men. Barry Church, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee and Nick Hayden all missed some time in the game with minor injuries, and that's on top of already missing guys like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain, Rolando McClain, Orlando Scandrick, Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy. It's hard to have success in those conditions.
However, fear not, Cowboys nation! This defense has reinforcements coming in the near future! They will get better. That's my positive slant ... and Fish adds to this by noting the following:
Good. Dallas' shorthandedness is a reason. Not an excuse.
7. One of the few bright spots of the defense on Sunday was, of course, Sean Lee, who missed a couple of series to tend to a busted lip that required stitches. However, even after sitting out for part of the game, Lee once again led the defense in tackles (10) and recorded the first sack of his career (hard to believe, I know). The Cowboys defense especially missed Lee when the Falcons converted on a 2-point conversion after Hitchens left his guy wide open. That's the kind of missed assignment that doesn't happen when #50 is on the field.
Lee's comment to Fish tells a story ...
And so does this: I think when we watch film, we're going to see Atlanta's FB push a lot of Dallas LBs around -- Sean included. I think this is where Lee is disappointed in himself.
8.  Another bright spot on defense was... Nick Hayden? That's right. The Golden Cock  had a really nice game, recording 5 tackles and at one point knocked down 2 passes at the line of scrimmage on back-to-back plays. In fact, Hayden has been chugging all season - recording zero missed tackles so far and recovering a fumble last week vs Philly.
How much do you expect him to be a "playmaker''? Not much. But he's made a few.
Meanwhile, Hayden's fellow defensive linemen have been underwhelming. Tyrone Crawford is the only defensive lineman on the team with a sack but he hasn't provided the consistent disruption that the team is looking for out of their star 3-tech. Demarcus Lawrence hasn't provided much as a pass rusher either, although you've got to keep in mind that he still hasn't played a full season. But, like I said, the Cowboys are getting Gregory, Mincey and Hardy back in due time, which should go a long way in fixing their pass rush problems.
9. The main premise of Rod Marinelli's defense is to bend but not break. Indeed, if you look at the family tree of Atlanta's D and Dallas' D, you'll see similarities. The Cowboys did a lot of bending in this game but they had opportunities to not break in the red zone. However, there were 2 red zone penalties by the defense led to Atlanta TD's.
Also, Morris Claiborne nearly came away with an interception in the red zone but dropped the ball. If they don't get called for those penalties or if Mo comes away with that pick, the Cowboys likely win that game. 
10. Special teams continues to be a pleasant surprise. Chris Jones had 3 punts that landed inside the Falcons 15 yard line. He consistently gave the defense great field position and made things difficult for Atlanta. Unfortunately, the defense wasn't able to hold up their end of the bargain. Meanwhile, Dan Bailey is leading the NFL in average yards per kickoff (67.7) and 13 of his 15 kickoffs have been touchbacks. He's also made all 4 of his field goal attempts and all 9 of his extra point attempts so far. (Of course, you knew there'd be a goof somewhere, and on Atlanta's third-quarter 2-point conversion try, Dallas had only 10 men on the field.)
The Cowboys will need their special teamers to continue their special play if they're going to have a chance without Romo or Dez. ... and yes, as you review KD's analysis of the game and Fish's "Nothing Dreamy'' Premium Cowboys column live from the locker room we realize that overcelebrating Dallas' Teams means there must be much to undercelebrate in the other two phases.

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