Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup is one of the more underrated receivers in the game, but will make his season debut at the right time Sunday vs. the Falcons. The Cowboys offense is coming off of their worst performance of the season, only managing two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter against the Broncos to turn a 30-0 deficit into a 30-16 loss.
The Cowboys were far from the only contender to take a step back in week nine, and this league-wide trend towards parity continued with the Dolphins' win on Thursday against the Ravens. While some clubs made moves at the trade deadline, the Cowboys remained insistent the players returning from injury can provide a boost for the 6-2 NFC East leaders. Gallup will get the first chance to do so, rejoining a position group that already ranks among the league's best.
Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Cedrick Wilson have all made up for the loss of Gallup in Kellen Moore's offense. Lamb has matched Gallup's career average in yards per reception at 15.4 this season, but with the Cowboys offensive line not at full strength the chances for Dak Prescott to throw downfield have been limited.
Though it hasn't taken away from their balanced running game, the connection Prescott and Gallup have on deep passes has been missed. Last week, the Broncos consistently brought one more than the Cowboys could block both in the run game or on blitzes. They did so by trusting their secondary in man coverage. Gallup is the type of player that can make contested catches in coverage look easy, while also taking the top off of a defense.
There's a mantra in roster building around the NFL that if a team feels they have a position group capable of winning them games, add another contributor as opposed to striving for balance across the roster. The Cowboys will also get help on defense back today as DT Trysten Hill comes off IR, but Gallup fits this mantra perfectly. Proving the Broncos loss as an outlier for this explosive offense is something Gallup can help with immediately.
Dallas should still find ways to incorporate players like Wilson and Tony Pollard into their passing game, something they can do with more creativity now that the projected starting lineup of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb is back together. Using these pass catchers in motion to help with the blocking scheme and ease the loss of Tyron Smith is something the Cowboys should be prepared for.
Gallup was targeted five times with two catches against the Falcons last year, a signature 40-39 comeback win for Mike McCarthy's team. Just how ready he is to exceed this stat line and contribute today, or if his role will be as more of a decoy, remains to be seen. It will take even longer for the Cowboys to reclaim their status as one of the NFL's top teams after their week nine setback, but getting the ball to Gallup is a step in the right direction.
The Cowboys have only scored a touchdown on half of their red zone trips this season. Just the Bengals, Jets, and Giants have an equal or worse conversion rate. For as effortless as this offense looks moving the ball at times, not finishing drives with seven points leaves the door open for Dan Quinn's defense to be exposed. They've done a great job getting the ball back to the offense when needed in close games, but perform even better attacking with the lead. This takes opponents out of their running game, something the Cowboys never did against the Broncos.
Simply having to prepare for all the options the Cowboys will now have on offense is close to enough for opponents to come into their matchup expecting to keep up only by throwing at a high volume.
On the receiving end of six red zone touchdowns through his Cowboys career, there hasn't been much missing from Dallas' passing attack so far this season – but Gallup's ability to go up and get the ball will stand out as the Cowboys look to bounce back against a defense allowing 237 passing yards per game.
The Falcons have allowed over 30 points in three games this season, escaping with a road win at the Saints 27-25 last week.