Falcons, Cowboys tangle in AT&T Stadium with both teams looking for first win of the season
Two teams that should be "mad as hell" after Week 1 — the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys — will meet up on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium. The Falcons (0-1) need to get a win to keep pace in the NFC South. Meanwhile, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy desperately wants to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start in his first season after taking over for Jason Garrett, who was dismissed at the end of the 2019 season.
Atlanta gave Seattle a little bit of a battle into the second half after trailing 14-12 at halftime. However, a couple of turnovers and the inability to slow down Russell Wilson resulted in a 38-25 loss to the Seahawks. Matt Ryan was 37-of-53 for 450 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Todd Gurley had 14 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones had nine receptions for 157 yards, and Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage also had nine receptions each for 130 and 114 yards, respectively, with two touchdowns for Ridley. Hayden Hurst had a solid showing with three receptions for 38 yards. A couple of positives for the defense were the ability to get three sacks on Wilson and they limited Seattle to just 84 yards on the ground on 20 carries.
Dallas continued to find a way to lose close football games as they dropped a 20-17 decision to the Los Angeles Rams at the spectacular SoFi Stadium on Sunday night. The Cowboys suffered a pair of key injuries: tight end Blake Jarwin is out for the season with a torn ACL and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will miss several weeks with a broken collarbone. Dak Prescott completed 25-of-39 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown. Ezekiel Elliott had a combined 127 yards (96 rushing, 31 receiving) and two touchdowns on 25 touches. However, the offensive line started to show cracks, as they were not able to consistently keep Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams in check.
Atlanta at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dak Prescott vs. Matt Ryan
Prescott should have more opportunities for explosive plays in the passing game this week. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb all have the ability to make big plays and should be able to take advantage of a young Atlanta secondary. Last week against the Rams, these guys combined for 18 receptions, and 190 yards, which are numbers that have to improve a bit as the season progresses. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore needs to get Prescott going early, throwing the ball to loosen up the Atlanta defense to set up the running game.
Ryan doesn’t lack for quality pass-catching targets either, as Jones, Ridley, and Gage caused plenty of problems for the impressive Seattle secondary. Thus, it will be incumbent upon Ryan to attack the Cowboys secondary by getting that trio their targets. Decision making is also going to be crucial for both quarterbacks since they can ill afford to let the other team steal a possession by turning the ball over. This game should safely hit the over (54 points) this week. Also, the quarterback that takes can care of business in the red zone by finishing drives with touchdowns versus settling for field goals will be in great shape to pick up a win on Sunday.
2. Line of scrimmage battle
One of the most disappointing elements of Week 1 for both teams was their inability to control the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys were not able to get the Rams off the field consistently enough, as Los Angeles had the ball for over 35 minutes. Stopping the run was a big problem for Dallas: they allowed 153 rushing yards to the Rams' stable of running backs. Atlanta came into the 2020 season looking for more balance on offense, but due to the nature of how the Seattle game unfolded, they weren’t able to really turn Gurley and Brian Hill loose running the football.
Looking ahead to Sunday, it’s going to be up to the Cowboys' offensive line to keep a handle on Grady Jarrett, who got off to a good start last week. For the Falcons, their offensive line needs to set the tone early against DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the Dallas defensive line and get them on their heels.
3. Situational awareness from both coaches
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy made a very questionable decision to go for it on a 4th-and-3 early in the fourth quarter at the Los Angeles 11-yard-line instead of kicking a game-tying field goal. That move was too aggressive and didn’t make sense given the score. It also would have sent a message to his team that he had the confidence in them to make a play later on to break the tie and win.
Dan Quinn was also ultra-aggressive in the loss to the Seahawks by going for it multiple times on fourth down, including a questionable fake punt call in the third quarter when they trailed 21-12. Safety Sharrod Neasman caught the direct snap, picked up enough first down yardage, but had the ball stripped and recovered by the Seahawks. A few plays later, Seattle punished Quinn when Wilson connected with Greg Olsen for his first touchdown as a Seahawk to extend the lead to 28-12. Moving forward, it will be up to Quinn to avoid panicking and not let the pressure of being on the hot seat get to him by costing his team games early in the season.
There should be plenty of offensive fireworks on Sunday from both teams as they continue to round into football shape. AT&T Stadium will have 20,000 fans in attendance, so there will be a little extra juice in the stadium this week. Prescott should hit the ground running in front of the home crowd and connect on a couple of explosive plays early for the Cowboys to build some early momentum. Atlanta will strike back with a couple of scores from their offense to make the game interesting in the second half. In the end, Elliott will wear down the Falcons defense in the second half to secure Dallas' first win of the year.
Prediction: Cowboys 38, Falcons 27
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.