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What you need to know about Falcons - Cowboys in Week 2

In Dallas, Atlanta gets a motivated opponent with the talent to punish them for mistakes, but also a team still finding its footing.

NFL: NOV 18 Cowboys at Falcons

The Falcons and the Cowboys both have one loss on the docket heading into Week 2, but they’re dealing with that in very different ways.

For Atlanta, no matter how laser-focused this team is on each game in front of them, a loss feels deeply problematic. Atlanta’s banked so much on keeping the current brain trust in place based on a remarkable 6-2 run at the end of 2019 that a slow start confirming that momentum is meaningless would be hugely damaging. The Falcons are also in a division with the Saints and Buccaneers, who are expected to be (though won’t necessarily be) major contenders in the NFC.

The Cowboys are just finding their feet. They have a brand new head coach after many, many years with Jason Garrett at the helm, and their loss doesn’t seem catastrophic because their primary competition in the division (Philadelphia) also lost and didn’t look very good doing it. If it takes them a little more time to get going, fine, they’re not trying to keep a veteran coach and front office around or face a rapidly closing window to contend. They’ll be okay, but Week 1 certainly suggested it may be a little while until they really find their footing.

That’s not to say they’ll lack for motivation, however, and they’ll have plenty to study based on what the Falcons managed or did not manage against the Seahawks. Dak Prescott isn’t quite Russell Wilson, but he and this Dallas offense are certainly capable of following the Seattle blueprint to victory, and the defense is pretty good despite injuries and youth in the secondary. Now that we’ve seen the Falcons get rolled over on the basis of critical mistakes and a handle of plays that were either poorly conceived or poorly executed, they’ll need to be crisp and ready to get off to a fast start in Dallas to win this one, because there’s no guarantee the Cowboys get things humming as quickly as Seattle did. If Atlanta does that, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier to chalk that Seahawks loss up to a bad start, rather than a sign that the same old things are rotten in Denmark.

Falcons - Cowboys 2020 head-to-head

The Falcons are off to an eerily similar start to where they finished up the year, at least in these statistical categories. Fun!

Falcons - Cowboys 2020 Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 0-1 14 2 1 29 30 23 28 7 20 23
Cowboys 0-1 23 12 15 11 11 28 24 27 11 1

Atlanta looked like a top passing offense again, albeit one that got going a little too late, but their ground game was hampered by abandonment once the team fell behind big. The defense unfortunately Falconed at a high level in terms of production, with the secondary catching the brunt of that on a crisp day from Russell Wilson, while the run defense fared much better. That may matter against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, who gashed them pretty good the last time the two teams met.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, got off to something of a slow start. The offense chugged along just fine but they didn’t get many points to show for it, losing starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and top tight end Blake Jarwin in the same game. Their defense also held the Rams to 20 points but surrendered plenty of long, productive drives, which is not a good sign for them against a very capable Falcons offense. The front seven is quality, if hurt by Vander Esch’s injury, but the secondary looks like it can be picked on.

These are two teams off to shaky starts, in other words, and the defensive performances from the first week suggest a shootout is quite possible if both passing games are firing on all cylinders.

How the Cowboys changed the last time

The Falcons last played the Cowboys in that frustrating 2018 season, and Atlanta’s punchless loss against them was one of the lowlights of the season.

The core of this offense looks much the same, with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup forming an intimidating group, and that’s with me completely forgetting rookie I completely forgot to Tight end won’t be the same because of injury, but the line is also mostly the same group Atlanta faced way back in 2018. The exception is right tackle, where Atlanta gets another opportunity to tee off on a replacement because Terence Steele may be starting. Let’s hope they can take advantage.

Defensively, the group that held the Falcons in check so effectively the last time out (just 19 points on the day) is not here. There are familiar faces, sure, but Dontari Poe and Trysten Hill are new at defensive tackle, Byron Jones and Chidobie Azuwie are replaced by rookie Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, and Darian Thompson has taken over for Jeff Heath. I’m not sure it’s a demonstrably worse defense all in all, but the downgrade from Jones at cornerback is very significant with Altanta set to bring three 100 yard receivers to bear against Dallas.

Overall, though, this is still a good, veteran team with plenty of quality pieces, and you shouldn’t let their frustration at the hands of the Rams convince you otherwise.

What you need to know

The Falcons losing what felt like a winnable game to the Seahawks—and especially them losing it by whiffing on four fourth downs, struggling in the secondary, and taking too long to really get the offense rolling—was not a great way to start the season. It’s also not a great first effort considering what the Cowboys are capable of.

Dallas gets this next one at home and plenty motivated, given that they just lost a tough one to a Rams team that was able to do a lot of damage to the Cowboys defense despite the relatively low-scoring affair. Their superior offensive line—minus Steele, who I hope is a massive trouble spot for them—and talent at running back ought to test this Atlanta run defense more, and Prescott isn’t quite as efficient as Russell Wilson is but is still plenty good enough to put together the kind of patient attack punctuated by downfield strikes that doomed Atlanta just a week ago. Their defense certainly bent but did not really break, picking up an interception off of Goff and limiting the Rams to 20 points despite many long, frustrating drives.

The good news is that on paper, this Atlanta defense is not considerably worse than the Rams defense (though from a results standpoint it sure as hell is/was), and the offense is more talented, though not presided over by the same caliber of offensive mind. The Falcons have yet to lose a Week 2 game in the Dan Quinn era, the product of lessons learned (however briefly) in a lot of shaky Week 1 efforts, and the encouraging start for the pass rush, ground game, and passing game can very easily put Atlanta over the top here if they can manage to coax more than two quarters of quality production out of any of them.

It’s early in the season, but obviously this feels a bit must-win already. Atlanta’s gone into too many deep funks after bad starts to the season to lose against the Cowboys, especially with plenty of challenging games ahead on the slate, so it’ll be critical for them to really learn from the lessons of the Seattle loss and get things rolling early. Dallas is plenty capable of punishing them if they do not.