It’s easy to jump on the don’t-give-Dan-Quinn-a-big-lead-to-protect bandwagon. There’s certainly some history there to suggest a trend. On Sunday against the Cowboys, though, Atlanta’s approach wasn’t the issue. The Falcons stayed aggressive enough. The defense didn’t just sit back in soft zones hoping the clock would run out. Instead, they simply executed poorly. And Dak Prescott made plays down the stretch.
We’ll start with the beginning of the comeback. The Cowboys trailed 39-24 with 7-and-a-half minutes remaining. On this 3rd-and-4, the Falcons were showing blitz but bailed into a Cover-2 look. Prescott did a great job of avoiding pressure in a collapsing pocket and then made a difficult downfield throw.
That’s just a great play by Prescott.
Later on the drive, Dallas faced 3rd-and-7. As you can see below, Atlanta did not sit back and play it safe. They brought a blitz and played man-coverage behind it. Isaiah Oliver (#26) just got beat by CeeDee Lamb (#88).
The touchdown to cap off the drive was another great throw by Prescott.
I love this throw because this is what the better quarterbacks in the league do. They see a defender turn his back in the middle of the field and know that he might as well not even be there. That receiver becomes open despite the defender in close proximity.
Falcons rookie linebacker Mykal Walker (#43) is the defender to watch below. He turned to run with tight end Dalton Schultz (#86), which made Schultz appear open to Prescott. All Dak had to do was not hit Walker in the back of the head.
That’s great throw, but I’m even more encouraged by the decision.
Mike McCarthy then tried his best to ensure a loss by going for two instead of kicking the extra-point (bEcAuSe tHe aNaLyTiCs sAy sO), which kept it a two-possession game. The Falcons responded with some bonehead plays of their own.
On the next drive, Atlanta faced 2nd-and-13. Below, you can see that Matt Ryan wanted something downfield. That’s fine. I have no problem with continuing to run the offense. But he stuck with those downfield routes for too long. You can see that he had two options in the flat to be able to cut the distance in half for a more manageable 3rd down. Instead he took a sack.
On 3rd-and-18, the Falcons really didn’t have a chance to keep the ball in their hands. They would end up having to punt.
Still, Atlanta had a two-possession lead with 3 minutes to go. Here, they could focus on just trying not to give up any big plays. Once again, their execution was poor. Once again, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys made plays.
On the below play, focus on Isaiah Oliver at the top of the screen.
It looked like the Falcons were playing a 3-deep zone (tough to tell exactly from the broadcast angle). Oliver was looking inside a couple of seconds into the play to see if there were any routes coming his way. But there was nothing close to threatening him.
Unfortunately for Oliver, he didn’t end up locking on to Michael Gallup, who was running a go-route in his deep zone, until it was too late.
This left Oliver sprinting to try and catch up with Gallup, which prevented him from being able to make a play on the ball. The design of this coverage is to prevent a big play over the top. You can’t let your receiver get on top of you in that situation. But that’s exactly what happened, and Dallas was able to pick up a quick 38 yards. The throw by Prescott was great and the catch by Gallup was even better. But Oliver also failed to execute.
After the Cowboys recovered the onside kick, they quickly put themselves in position to attempt the game winner with this 24-yard completion to CeeDee Lamb (aligned in the slot to the right on Darqueze Dennard).
Was there a bit of a push there? Sure. But Lamb had Dennard spinning like a top before that. He was going to be open on that route anyway. Again, one team executed down the stretch, the other didn’t.
I’m not sure how big of a deal this is, but it’s worth pointing out. What you see below was the Falcons’ best attempt at blocking a potential game-winning field goal:
I see 3 guys standing up, not rushing. I see two edge rushers on both sides giving a half-assed effort to block the kick. Maybe the thinking was simply to not jump off sides. It seemed like Atlanta was trying to get Dallas to move with a shift right before the snap. Still, with how few fans there were in the stands and how few Falcons were actually rushing, this might as well have been a kick on the practice field with no one around. Weak stuff from Atlanta.
The outcome of this game could very well have season-altering implications. The Falcons have now dug themselves an early hole in a very competitive NFC South division. The Cowboys established themselves as the front runners in a very weak NFC East division. The NFL season can change in the blink of an eye.
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