Sun, 01 Nov 2020

Big Picture: 5 Storylines For Cowboys & Falcons

Dallas Cowboys
16 Sep 2020, 20:24 GMT+10

Kyle Youmans

Week One proved to be as unique of a challenge that any Dallas Cowboys team has had to face. No fans were in the stands, a pair of starters left early due to injury, and the Rams took advantage of some Dallas miscues in route to a 20-17 win.

The beautiful thing about the NFL, is that there's always a chance to rebound a week later. This time, the Cowboys aim to get back on track against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Here are some of the key storylines for each team.

Falcons The Falcons and Cowboys will play in Arlington for the first time since 2015 and only the third time ever in AT&T Stadium during the home opener Sunday afternoon. Dallas leads the all-time series over their NFC South Foe 17-11-0 but have lost three of their last four matchups. Much like the Cowboys, the Falcons have an elite passing attack led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, two staples of the franchise. Also, like Dallas, Atlanta added a massive new piece to their offense with the signing of Todd Gurley following his release from Los Angeles. Gurley opens up a new wrinkle offensively by adding a workhorse tailback to rely on, just a few years following the departed dual-backfield era of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Head coach Dan Quinn made it a point this offseason that he wanted to add emphasis on the run game in order to increase success in the play action. However, after getting behind early against Seattle, Atlanta then turned back to the arm of Matt Ryan who threw the ball 54 times in Week 1 (T-2nd most passing attempts in his career). The Falcons emerged from Week One relatively healthy as just four players were on the injury report early in the week. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the four names were all on the defensive side of the ball that conceded 38 points to the Seahawks. Rookie Marlon Davidson (Knee), Kendall Sheffield (Foot), Charles Harris (Ankle), and Darqueze Dennard (Undisclosed) are all listed as questionable for Sunday but could each add needed depth to that side of the football. It'll mark the second week in a row that the Cowboys have to game plan against a standout pass-rusher on the opposing defensive line. Takk McKinley is not at the same level as Aaron Donald is as a perennial All-Pro, but the fourth-year player out of UCLA sure wreaked havoc against Seattle. On the first drive of the game, he flew in, untouched, off the edge to sack Russell Wilson and pin the offense behind the chains. He wasn't done there. He finished the game with six hurries, five combined tackles, and a pass defense before the day came to a close. He appears to be the most improved player on Quinn's defense and could be in store for another big day against a banged-up Cowboys offensive line. The pressure is on Dan Quinn to have instant success as both the head coach and defensive coordinator this season. Following the NFC Championship season in 2016, the Falcons posted one season with a 10-6 record, but have now had a pair of back-to-back 7-9 seasons. Atlanta aims to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 when they defeated the Rams in the Wild Card matchup and lost to Philadelphia in the Divisional Round. Cowboys Dallas finds another tough matchup ahead of week two after falling to the Rams Sunday night. One saving grace is the fact that they will open the doors at AT&T Stadium for the first time in 2020 and take the field in front of some Cowboys fans, although it's still unknown on the expected attendance. Since 2018, the Cowboys are 12-4 in Arlington while over the same period of time the Falcons hold an even 8-8 mark on the road. Along with the three veterans already on IR (La'el Collins, Sean Lee, Ventell Bryant) Dallas now has more names on the injury report entering the week. Blake Jarwin is out indefinitely due to a torn ACL, Leighton Vander Esch is down 6-8 weeks with a fractured collarbone, and swing-tackle Cam Erving is out with his own MCL injury. Add the uncertainty of Jourdan Lewis in the second week of the year, and the Cowboys have some of the most active setbacks in the league already. According to Jerry Jones, the Cowboys will rely on filling these roles in-house before looking elsewhere. At tight end, Dalton Shultz and Blake Bell will seemingly share the duties initially while Sean McKeon could get more snaps and perhaps Cole Hikutini, who is on the practice squad. Things get more complicated with the linebackers. The team signed LB Rashad Smith off of Chicago's practice squad and look for Luke Gifford to get some action this week. But depth still remains an overall issue behind Jaylon Smith and Joe Thomas. Dallas saw plenty of positives despite the result against the Rams. One of the most notable was the play of Ezekiel Elliott with 127 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns. In his fifth-career season opener, Zeke tallied his second-best rushing total (96 yards) on opening weekend only behind 2017 when he finished the season leading the NFL in yards per game. The Cowboys struggled mightily on third downs last week, converting just 3 of 12 attempts. Staying on the field is going to be vital for a Cowboys offense that will likely need to score some points to stay up with the high-powered Falcons offense. A significant storyline during the loss to the Rams was the ineffectiveness from the defensive line outside of Aldon Smith, who was the only defensive lineman that finished with a sack or hurry while the rest of the line failed to impact the stat sheet. For example, DeMarcus Lawrence finished with just one tackle and a pass defense on his stat line. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan attributed Lawrence's struggles to the high-tempo and quick passing game plan from Sean McVay and the Los Angeles offense.

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