The Dallas Cowboys traveled to Atlanta this weekend to take on the defending NFC champion Falcons. This would finally be the Cowboys first game without Ezekiel Elliott, after a lengthy series of legal appeals. In addition to the loss of Elliott, Dallas would also be without left tackle Tyron Smith.
The game started out like most Cowboys games do, with their offense on the field first. Dak Prescott, on the field for the first time without Elliott, wasted little time utilizing his other premier weapon – Dez Bryant. Bryant picked up a couple of first downs on the opening drive before the effects of missing Tyron Smith reared its ugly head. Chaz Green, filling in for Smith, gave up back to back sacks and the Cowboys were forced to punt.
Matt Ryan brought the Atlanta offense out on to their home field for what would be a very brief opening possession. On the third play of the drive Cowboys rookie safety Xavier Woods made a diving interception, returning the ball to the Atlanta 20 yard line. Dallas took over in excellent field position, and used a short swing pass to Rod Smith to convert on a 3rd and 7. Prescott would run the ball in for a touchdown on the next play, giving Dallas an early 7-0 lead.
The Falcons took possession again and found much more success on their second drive of the game – particularly on third down. Julio Jones made an outstanding catch on 3rd and 3 to kick start things, while Austin Hooper was able to make Orlando Scandrick miss in the open field on the way to converting a 3rd and 7. Ryan was not able to convert the next third down, but picked up enough yards to set Matt Bryant up for a 50 yard field goal. Atlanta now trailed 7-3.
The Cowboys began the second quarter on offense, but received some devastating news on defense, as Sean Lee was said to be questionable to return with a hamstring injury, later ruled out. Back on the offensive side of the ball, Prescott was able to connect with Brice Butler on a 3rd and 10 to move the team near midfield. However another sack on third down forced the Cowboys into a punting situation. Coach Jason Garrett continued to show a more aggressive approach this season as he dialed up a fake punt. Punter Chris Jones found Brice Butler running open down the sidelines for a first down deep in Atlanta territory. But in what would be a first half theme, a penalty would negate the play. Butler was flagged for offensive pass interference and the Cowboys had to punt the ball for real.
Having to punt ended up not being the end of the world as Woods downed the ball at the Atlanta 2 yard line. Demarcus Lawrence would get his 11.5 sack of the year later in the drive to force a Falcon punt. The Cowboys would take over in outstanding field position near midfield.
The absence of Smith, would be felt yet again as Prescott was sacked on 3rd down, preventing Dallas from even getting into field goal range. Another Jones punt gave Ryan and company the ball back at their own 20 yard line. The Cowboys continued to commit untimely penalties as they aided the Falcons drive all the way down the field. A pass interference call on Anthony Brown in the end zone placed the ball on the 2 yard line. Tevin Coleman would punch it in, giving the Falcons their first lead of the game, 10-7.
With 1:30 left in the half the Cowboys would take over looking for a field goal to head into halftime tied. A couple of Dak runs and completions to Jason Witten and Terrance Williams brought the ball out to midfield. However yet another holding call, this time on Chaz Green, pushed the offense back. Prescott would ultimately be strip sacked on 3rd down. The Cowboys would head to locker room down 10-7.
The second half got under way with Ryan and the Falcons on offense. The absence of Lee was felt again, as this drive brought on flashbacks of the Denver game. Coleman and Jones quickly had the Falcons into Dallas territory after two plays. Ryan found Justin Hardy on 3rd and goal, extending their lead to 17-7.
The Cowboys would finally get their vaunted ground game going on their first possession of the second half. Utilizing a bigger three tight end formation, Alfred Morris ripped off runs of 14 and 20 yards. Dak picked up a 3rd and short with his legs and the Dallas offense was cooking. Then Chaz Green struck again. Green gave up an easy sack on first down, killing the drive. To make things worse, Mike Nugent missed the 38 yard field goal. The Cowboys were officially reeling.
Ryan wasted no time going for the Cowboys throat on the next drive, finding Taylor Gabriel for a huge gain across the middle, bringing the ball deep into Dallas territory as the third quarter came to a close.
The final quarter began with Ryan finding Austin Hooper for the easy play action touchdown, almost putting the game out of reach at 24-7 with 13 minutes and change remaining in the game.
The Cowboys offense continued their poor performance on the next drive. Green gave up yet another sack, again to Adrien Clayborn, his 5th sack of the day. Green’s play was so bad Troy Aikman called it the worst attempt at pass blocking he has ever seen. It was’t enough that Green’s poor play was contributing to Dallas losing the game, but now Prescott was starting to get banged up.
The rest of the 4th quarter would go the way much of the first three did – Atlanta’s offense toying with the Dallas’ defense, and the Cowboys offense unable to sustain any success against the Falcon defense. The final score would be 27-7, moving Atlanta to 5-4 on the season, while Dallas dropped to 5-4.
The injuries and suspensions definitely affected the Cowboys this Sunday. While many believed Dallas could survive the loss of Elliott, including this writer, the additional losses of Tyron Smith and Sean Lee proved to be too much. It was also the first week the team felt the impact of no Dan Bailey, as Mike Nugent missed any easy 38 yarder, – when the game was still in reach.
Chaz Green was absolutely terrible, and while Bryon Bell may not have been the answer, the coaching staff needed to make adjustments. They watched their young star quarterback get killed for three and half quarters, before pulling Green. The defense was also a shell of itself almost immediately after Sean Lee went out, further pointing to the team’s lack of depth at the position.
As the Cowboys fall further and further behind the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead, they are also losing important tiebreakers when it comes to potential wild card spots. While no one can predict how the rest of the season will shake out, losses to the Rams, Packers, and Falcons could all come back to hurt the Cowboys wildcard chances. Dallas will be back in action next Sunday night in a must win game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.