Week one of the NFL season is now long gone and the Dallas Cowboys have their eyes set on their week two opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons come to town on the heels of their own disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Every week there are things that every team can improve upon from the previous week. For the Dallas Cowboys to come out on top, there are several things they need to do better in week two of the season. This is a quality opponent that will provide a different host of challenges than what the Los Angeles Rams did in week one.
Let’s take a look at three things the Dallas Cowboys must improve heading into week two.
1. Tackle Better
The defense struggled as a whole on Sunday to find a comfort level with all of the presnap and motion at the snap that the Los Angeles Rams were showing. All of the movement combined with the play-action fakes put the Dallas Cowboys defense in some compromised positions and left them chasing at times.
It didn’t help that when they were in the right position, they struggled to tackle. As a team, they missed 11 tackles and some at very inopportune times leading to first downs and touchdowns. They have to do better at tackling in key situations.
The Los Angeles Rams didn’t fair much better in the missed tackle department as they also missed 11 as a team, but it seemed as if they made the plays they had to make at the key moments of drives.
On the 4th and 3 call that ran CeeDee Lamb on a short drag route in an attempt to get Safety Jordan Fuller caught up in the quagmire of players dealing with Dalton Schultz a little bit deeper in the route concept. Lamb had the space to make the reception, but as soon as he caught it, Fuller was right there to bring him down.
This week, as the Dallas Cowboys face the explosive Atlanta Falcons, they’ll need to be better at tackling in key situations. When they get an opportunity to bring Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, or Todd Gurley to the ground, they must do it. That team is too good offensively to give them second chances.
2. Push the Ball Downfield
A characteristic of the Kellen Moore offense that was revealed in 2019 was the deep passing game. It was a revelation that led to three wide receivers averaging more than 15 yards per reception for the Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, that aspect of the Cowboys passing game became non-existent.
Of Dak Prescott’s 39 pass attempts on Sunday, only two traveled more than 20 yards down the field. One was a completion to CeeDee Lamb on a deep over route late in the first half that went for 33 yards. The only other attempt that went deep that I can recall was the offensive pass interference that was called against Michael Gallup.
It certainly mattered that the Cowboys were playing with undrafted free agent Terrance Steele at right tackle instead of La’el Collins. Using a backup along your offensive line dictated that they get the ball out of Prescott’s hands quickly. The problem is, the Rams began sitting on everything underneath and it made life really difficult or the Cowboys passing game.
Against an offense with the explosiveness that the Atlanta Falcons bring to Arlington, TX on Sunday, the Cowboys will have to find a similar level of explosion to their passing attack.
In order to facilitate some of these big plays, they may have to leave a tight end in to help Steele on the right side of the offensive line allowing Ezekiel Elliott to help the middle of the offensive line in pass protection.
They have to work the deep part of the field to force the Falcons defense to back off a bit so when they do throw underneath, there are opportunities for yards after the catch.
3. Keep Out of 3rd and Long
One way to minimize the impact of having a backup offensive lineman in the game is to keep yourself out of long down and distances. Per Sharp Football Stats, when the Dallas Cowboys were sitting in second and third down with seven or more yards to go, they had a success rate of 50% on 20 plays.
That means they failed to pick up 60% of the yardage to go on second down or 100% of the yardage to go on third down in those situations. By contrast, when the Cowboys had six yards or less to go on second and third down, their success rate jumped to 59%.
It’s important for the Cowboys to attack the first down marker on first down in order to keep them out of second and third and long. The best way to avoid third and long is to avoid third down altogether. One way the Cowboys can do that is by throwing on first down more frequently, which typically sets up second and short situations, which allows your team to have greater conversion rates.
Per Sharp Football Stats, the Cowboys had an even split on first down runs and passes at 16 apiece. When they threw the football, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys had an 88% success rate, meaning they picked up at least 40% of the necessary yardage for a first down. Prescott averaged 9.5 yards per attempt and 6.8 air yards per attempt on first down while completing 14 of 16 passes for 152 yards and a passer rating of 106.3.
The running game was successful on 56% of their runs on first down averaging 4.5 yards per carry. However, it’s clear to see that when the Cowboys threw on first down they were much more successful and put themselves in a better position to sustain drives. The running game was good on Sunday, but this shows that the Cowboys were much more successful throwing the football on first down than they were running the ball.
Letting Dak Prescott throw on first down puts the Cowboys in a much more advantageous position when it comes to second and third down. If they’re failing to pick up four yards on first down on 44% of their run plays, then the Cowboys are putting themselves in 2nd and 7 or more nearly half the time, which as we outlined above makes it more difficult for the offense to pick up a first down. Running the ball may be the way of the NFL, but if the Cowboys are smart, they’ll put the ball in Dak Prescott’s hands and let him sling it.
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The Dallas Cowboys got off to a disappointing start to the season in week one against the Los Angeles Rams. They have a chance to right the ship this week when they host the Atlanta Falcons and if they do a few things better, they will put themselves in a better position to win the football game.