We went behind enemy lines this week and got some perspective about the Dallas Cowboys from the folks over at Blogging The Boys — the official Cowboys SBNation site.
The Cowboys lost Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee to injury. How will the team make up for their absences?
Sean Lee has been on IR since before the first game, so they have known they would be without him for a while. Leighton Vander Esch, on the other hand, was moved from the WILL linebacker spot to the MIKE this past offseason and was going to be the quarterback of the defense making all the calls. Vander Esch is a terrific run-stopper when he is on his game and has great agility for a guy his size, so he can also cover running backs and tight ends. He will definitely be missed. The backup is Joe Thomas, and the good news for the Cowboys is that Thomas is a pretty good player. There will be a fall off from Vander Esch, but Thomas may be as good in the pass coverage part of linebacking duties. He hasn’t proven to be the physical force that Vander Esch is, but he’s a capable player. Beyond that, though, the Cowboys are really inexperienced at linebacker. They usually only play two off-the-ball linebackers, but if they have to go beyond Thomas and Jaylon Smith for any reason, that could be trouble.
With La’el Collins and Cam Erving on IR, and now reports about Tyron Smith missing practice with a neck injury, how concerned are you about the state of the offensive line coming into this game?
Very concerned. We all remember what happened previously when the Cowboys played the Falcons without Tyron Smith. It was a blood-bath for Dak Prescott. Smith looks like he will be a game-time decision and there are differing reports coming out of Dallas about how likely it is he will play. If he can’t go, the Cowboys will have to go with some very inexperienced tackles in the game, or make the choice to move someone like guards Connor Williams or Zack Martin out to one of the tackle spots and insert someone else in the interior. Coach McCarthy said he prefers keeping the line’s continuity intact as much as he can, but he may be forced to mix it up without experienced backups at tackle. No matter what they do, if Smith doesn’t play, and with Collins already out, the offensive line is going to be a big issue.
Dallas brought Mike McCarthy in as their new head coach this season, what schematic differences can we expect to see on offense with him in charge?
So far we haven’t seen much of a difference. And that’s because even though Jason Garrett was the head coach last year, the offense was mainly offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s scheme. He was retained by McCarthy and still calls the plays for Dallas. In training camp they talked about incorporating some of the west coast principles that McCarthy has used in his career, but not much looked too different in the first week against the Rams. In fact, the offense seemed even more conservative than what you might expect from McCarthy’s pass-happy reputation.
Julio Jones has lit the Cowboys up in past meetings. What’s the adjustment the Dallas defense is possibly planning on making to make sure that doesn’t happen again?
I mean, Julio Jones lights up most teams so I’m not sure there is any real adjustment you can make. You just have to hope the rest of the team doesn’t do enough to beat you. The Cowboys will probably do what most teams like to do which is slide a safety over top to keep Jones from beating them deep and then allow him to catch underneath and try to keep his YAC down. But you really can’t go overboard in positioning your secondary towards Jones because the Falcons have other receivers capable of doing damage.
How do you see this game playing out?
I think the Cowboy learned some things from the first game and will make some adjustments this time around. They were too conservative on offense and ran the ball in situations where they could have done more damage by passing, specifically around first downs. They need to create better down and distance situations so that they aren’t facing long third-down conversions. With the expected problems along the offensive line, they might resort to putting the ball in the hands of playmakers underneath and expect them to create YAC. They don’t want Prescott sitting in the pocket for too long, especially if Tyron Smith doesn’t play. That could mean a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott making catches out the backfield and using CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper underneath.
Defensively I think they’ll want to keep things in front of them in the secondary while simultaneously letting their pass rush loose on Matt Ryan. They will live with some of the underneath stuff as long as Ryan isn’t connecting for the deep throws. They will likely look to confuse the Falcons offensive line by moving players around on the pass rush and incorporating some disguised blitzes. Overall, I think the Cowboys will pull this one out but I expect a shootout.
I would like to thank BTB writer Dave Halprin for taking the time to answer a few of my questions leading up to this matchup.