Instant Analysis: Cowboys tie Falconers Knot, ground Matt Ryan in 43-3

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The Dallas Cowboys worked their way back into the win column this past week. Yes, the victory was achieved during their week of practice where the players were none too happy with their performance against the Denver Broncos in Week 9. The Atlanta Falcons were in the wrong place at the wrong time and found themselves on the receiving end of a 40 burger that went down easy for win-hungry Cowboys.

Dallas started off quickly, scoring on their first possession, then floored the pedal in the second quarter, scoring 29 straight points to tuck the game away at halftime. They barely broke a second-half sweat in winning 43-3.

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has been on the hot seat pretty much since 2020 went awry, but he should have built a lot of leeway with Dallas’ 6-1 start to the season. However his decision making was questioned yet again as Dallas fell flat for the first time all year. However, he orchestrated the most chest-beating bounce back that could be imagined, a thorough and absolute beat down of a conference opponent which entering the game was holding down a playoff spot.

Here’s how it all went down.

It was over when . . .

. . . Matt Ryan’s fourth-down throw to WR Russell Gage was broken up by nickel cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Lewis had just broken up a third-down attempt to tight end Kyle Pitts on 3rd-and-7, and it appeared the Falcons were going to trim the early Dallas lead to 7-6. Instead, head coach Arthur Smith decided to eschew the 49-yard kick and went for it.

Lewis made a statement for Dan Quinn’s defense with the back-to-back deflections, getting his hand inside to knock the pass away. This gave the ball back to the Dallas offense, which after scoring methodically on their opening drive, lost yardage on their next one.

The club marched down the field, ending the first quarter, and when the second quarter started they began the onslaught of 29 consecutive second quarter points.

The Falcons were likely being blown out anyway, but this play sowed the doubt in their heads.

Game Ball No. 1: Jourdan Lewis

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)Lewis set the tone early with the deflections and then put the cap on the victory. Dallas scored near the end of the third quarter and the Falcons tried to save some face. Nope. Lewis intercepted Matt Ryan, the secondary’s third of the contest just two minutes into the quarter. Lewis, Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs all picked off passes, as Brown related, for all three starting corners to pick off passes together for the first time since he’s been in Dallas (2016).

Lewis played all receivers who manned the slot while Lewis and Brown tended to the outside and he showed why Mike McCarthy and company rewarded him with a three-year contract this past offseason to remain in Dallas.

Game Ball No. 2: Dan Quinn

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsQuinn was facing off against the team that fired him midseason in 2021. The time away from the game allowed him to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the defense he wanted to run. Some thought that facing Atlanta would be a true test, but instead Quinn called and coordinated an outstanding game plan.

Dallas limited Matt Ryan to just 117 passing yards on the game and a 21.1 passer rating. Rookie sensation Kyle Pitts had 52 receiving yards in the first quarter and ended up with just 60 on the game. Offensive weapon Cordarelle Patterson had just 39 total yards on the game.

Quinn coordinated the Cowboys’ first game keeping an opponent out of the end zone since Week 3 of 2019 against the Miami Dolphins. It was the least amount of points Dallas has given up since the 2017 finale, a 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Quinn received the actual game ball from head coach Mike McCarthy following the contest.

Game Ball No. 3: QB Dak Prescott

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

As if there was much doubt, Dak Prescott replied to his season-worst and possibly career-worst performance in Week 9 with a scintillating showcase of his talents in Week 10. Prescott suffered from bad footwork and inaccurate passing in his return after a calf injury in Week 7 and a bye in Week 8. On Sunday, he was back in MVP form, finding any and everything he was looking for against the Falcons defense.

Prescott finished the game 24 for 31, passing for 296 yards and two scores, for a 127.9 passer rating. He also ran in a late touchdown on his own, his first of the season to go along with his 20 scoring tosses. And he did it all while sitting out the entire fourth quarter as Cooper Rush came in relief duty.

Key Stat: 10

That’s the combined number of pass deflections and interceptions the Cowboys had on the day. They may not have brought Ryan down to the ground very often, but he had to feel the Cowboys played with 12 men on the field the way they were able to get their hands on his passes.

Both Lewis and Brown added two deflections to their interceptions, while Jayron Kearse forced a drop on a jarring hit. Rookies Kelvin Joseph and Chauncey Golston kicked in with deflections as well to go along with Diggs’ eighth pick on the season.

Quick Reads

  • The Cowboys have now scored touchdowns on their last eight trips into the red zone. Dallas scored on their final drive of the game against Minnesota on a five-yard pass from Rush to Amari Cooper. For all that was wrong against Denver, they never made it inside the red zone until the garbage-time scoring passes to Malik Turner. Dallas went a perfect five-for-five in red-zone trips on Sunday against Atlanta.

  • Ezekiel Elliott had serious fumbling issues in 2020, but that problem had been non-existent in 2021. He lost his first fumble on Sunday when Dallas was up by 33 points, on a perfect peanut punch strip. Still Elliott had a strong day, finishing with two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.

  • CeeDee Lamb started off scorching hot, catching six of his seven targets for 94 yards and two touchdowns, but he had to leave the game with an arm contusion. More will be known on Monday, but hopefully his absence was just precautionary with the game well in hand.

  • The Cowboys fourth-down decisions were questioned last week against Denver, but observers should always judge the process not the results. Dallas went 0-for-4 last week but the decisions were sound. On Sunday, they flipped the script, getting an early conversion that led to points and a 14-3 lead. Dallas went three-for-three on the day.

  • Michael Gallup played his first game since a Week 1 calf injury and caught three passes for 43 yards. He’ll be mad at himself though for a drop that looked like it could have been a big gain, even a touchdown, when Dallas was buried at their own five-yard line in the third quarter.

  • Micah Parsons was once again the best Cowboys’ defender, leading the team in tackles with six. His sixth was a strip sack of Ryan, his team-leading sixth of the season.

  • Dorance Armstrong had a lot on his plate, filling in for Randy Gregory who is out for at least three weeks with his own calf injury. Armstrong came through in a big way, getting the team’s first sack on the day and later blocking a punt that was recovered for a touchdown by rookie CB Nahshon Wright. Of course Wright was the one involved in a crazy Week 9 blocked punt when he touched it past the line of scrimmage, allowing the Broncos to maintain possession.

  • Tony Pollard just missed a 100-yard game, leading the team in rushing with 42 yards to Elliott’s 41 as the Cowboys only averaged 3.1 yards a carry. Pollard also chipped in 56 receiving yards on six catches for 98 total.

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