On Sunday September 20, the Atlanta Falcons visited Jerry’s World to take on the struggling Cowboys. The Cowboys lost in Week 1 to the Rams, with a final score of 20-17. During the game, many people thought the Cowboys offense looked poor, or almost the same as it was with former head coach Jason Garrett. But this week was very different.
It’s no secret that without the start of the defense, the Falcons wouldn’t have had a 20-point lead in the first quarter. Deion Jones and Dante Fowler Jr. had their hands all over Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, including on a huge strip sack. But that was just one of the many fumbles in the first quarter. Grady Jarrett, Deadrin Senat, and John Cominsky would all recover a fumble each. Without the defense creating turnovers, the offense wouldn’t have had the great field position that they had during the first quarter.
Calvin Ridley, the Falcons main threat during this game was outstanding, and looks to be a star in the making. Julio Jones played this game not at 100% as he had a slight hamstring injury, and would finish the game with two receptions for 24 yards. But there is something that Julio brings to the game even when he isn’t healthy, and that’s the ability to draw defenses to him, which is exactly what happened all game. When Julio does this, it gives Ridley and others big opportunities for catches, and that’s what Ridley did. Making catch after catch, you can see where his route running and speed have really improved. Ridley is becoming a problem, and we saw what happened last week when all three receivers were healthy. Ridley would finish Sunday’s game with seven receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He now has four touchdowns in just two weeks.
Hayden Hurst and Russell Gage also helped pick up some of the slack from the unhealthy Julio. Hayden Hurst had already showed this year that he can be a go to target on a stacked offense. The numbers might not always be there for him because of target share, but when you need him to get a big catch, he can. We saw that with the second touchdown of the game. Hurst ran a fade route and was able to walk into the end zone as he was as open as it gets. Hurst would finish this game with an impressive five receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. Gage also impacted this game in a huge way. He was able to exploit the weakness in Dallas’ defense as he found the open gaps, and got the tough yards. He even almost threw a touchdown to Julio Jones on a vertical bomb, but it would be one of the VERY few drops we’ve ever seen from Jones. Gage would pull in six receptions for 46 yards and one touchdown. Boy does this receiving core look amazing just two weeks in.
The defense started strong, but consistency is key. Successful football teams have good defenses, and this one does not. The front seven did their part in the first half, but the secondary couldn’t keep up with the lethal wide receivers of Dallas. I was hoping we would see players like Isaiah Oliver step up in the pass defense. But that just wasn’t the case. Ricardo Allen was someone I wanted to improve from last week, and he did have some flashes of a good safety, but was not in the correct coverage several times throughout the game.
Special teams simply put has to be significantly better. There is no way around it. It may be coaching, it may be the players, but there is no excuse for what happened late in the fourth quarter on Sunday. An onside kick would be the play that got the Cowboys the ball back with 1:49 left in the game. This also led to the Cowboys having perfect field position, setting Greg Zuerlein up for a game winning field goal. It was a very embarrassing play, rivaling the 28-3 Super Bowl collapse. The players clearly had not a clue of the onside kick rules, and it cost Atlanta the game.
All in all, the game was not terrible. The Falcons showed some bright spots in this game. For example, they did score 39 points, which was the third highest point total of any team this week (Dallas-40, Green Bay-42). The offense looked great, but what’s new? Going forward the defense has got to step up, and this team can no longer be a first half team. And obviously they have to be better coached for plays like the onside kick. If they continue to lose games like this, I firmly believe Dan Quinn will be gone before the end of the season.
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