November 05, 2012

Dallas Cowboys fall to the Atlanta Falcons

More Dallas Cowboys mistakes and lack of discipline lead to critical loss to the Atlanta Falcons

By Matthew Postins

For all intents and purposes, the Dallas Cowboys’ 2012 season is over, at least from the standpoint of making the playoffs.

The Cowboys are 3-5 at the halfway point of the season. If Dallas were to win all of its games moving forward, they would finish 11-5. But does anyone really think that’s possible? Dallas still has two games each with Philadelphia and Washington, along with games against Pittsburgh and New Orleans. The way the Cowboys are playing now, they’ll be lucky to split those games.

It will take at least nine wins to make the playoffs in the NFC. So realistically the Cowboys need to win six of their final eight games.

After the Cowboys’ 19-13 loss against Atlanta, that seems extremely unlikely.

Here’s how it all broke down.

Run Offense:  Aside from the first possession of the third quarter the Cowboys’ running game looked anemic, as it has since both running back DeMarco Murray and center Phil Costa left the lineup. Dallas rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries, which when you consider the average – 3.6 yards per carry – isn’t all that bad. The Falcons committed to stopping the run by using three defensive tackles on first down. That move spelled out what the Falcons wanted to do with the Cowboys offense – force them to throw the ball. The Cowboys used Lance Dunbar on the game’s second possession and at various times during the game. Phillip Tanner received one carry, on a 3rd-and-1 the Cowboys had to have in the second quarter to move the chains and he didn’t get that yard. Dallas gained most of its rushing yardage outside the tackles. Their interior running game couldn’t get going, even when Falcons tackle Peria Jerry left the game. Overall, it was about what we’ve come to expect from the Cowboys without Murray.

Pass Offense: Let’s focus on the positive first. Tony Romo didn’t throw an interception. He threw for 321 yards and a touchdown. Statistically, Miles Austin and Jason Witten had solid games. Kevin Ogletree made two big plays, including the touchdown. Yet there was something lacking. The Cowboys dropped a couple of passes that could have meant larger gains. Austin dropped a big one when the Falcons blitzed on a third down in the third quarter. Ogletree had a big drop as well. Witten was sure-handed, but the Falcons locked him down for most of the contest. The Falcons also took care of Dez Bryant, allowing him just one catch. So why did the yardage not translate into points? The Cowboys were 3-of-10 on third down. Romo was 3-of-8 passing with a sack on third down. The Cowboys settled for field goals despite reaching the red zone on their first two drives. The Falcons got the Cowboys offense off the field. By the way, the Falcons were 7-of-14 on third down.

Run Defense: In the first half the Cowboys shut down the Falcons’ running game. In the second half the Falcons found a rhythm, continuing to pound Michael Turner inside against the Cowboys’ interior front. Turner finished with 102 yards on 20 carries, including a huge 43-yard gain in the second half that led to his touchdown run. The Falcons’ success on the ground was all about wearing down Dallas’ defense. The Falcons ran the ball 26 times. Take away Turner’s big gain and the Falcons gained 80 yards on 25 carries for a 3.2-yard average. But those carries had a cumulative effect on a defense that was left out on the field by a Cowboys offense that had difficulty sustaining drives and scoring points.  Linebacker Bruce Carter had a big game against the run, making several key tackles. Tackle Jay Ratliff played through an ankle injury and he and Josh Brent kept crashing the middle. They held the Falcons to a field goal late when Atlanta had hoped to move the chains with Turner.

Pass Defense: Dallas gave up chunks of yardage in the pass game, giving up 342 passing yards to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. But Ryan wasn’t able to throw a touchdown pass. Cornerback Brandon Carr made a great play against Roddy White on a touchdown pass in the end zone. White and Julio Jones each had 100-yard receiving games. Holding this passing game to no points is an accomplishment. On the rush DeMarcus Ware had 1.5 sacks, Victor Butler had a sack and Brent had a half-sack. The Cowboys did enough to keep Ryan off-balance. But cornerback Orlando Scandrick’s final possession is going to get all the headlines. Scandrick failed to make a tackle and committed a penalty which helped propel Atlanta to a field goal on its final drive. It’s the lack of execution that has hampered Dallas all season and it cropped up late in the contest.

Special Teams: Dwayne Harris had one punt return, but it went for 37 yards and set up the Cowboys’ first field goal. Dunbar returned three kickoffs for a 24.3-yard average with a long of 37. On that long one, an Alex Albright penalty brought back some of what Dunbar gained. Dan Bailey went 2-for-3 on field goals, missing a 54-yarder, and punter Brian Moorman averaged 45.5 yards per punt. The coverage units were fantastic. The Falcons did practically nothing on returns.

Coaching: Garrett will take some heat for not going for it on 4th-and-1 at midfield late in the second quarter. But you can’t blame him for being gun shy after the previous run play yielded nothing. Garrett called a conservative game, and considering some of the Falcons’ defensive formations – including their strange use of middle linebacker Akeem Dent as a safety – that approach might have worked had the offense executed a bit better. Garrett managed the clock well but took few chances. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan used stunts effectively to keep Atlanta off-balance. That’s what set up Ware’s first sack of the night. His unit applied solid pressure in the pass game and only gave up two big plays. Unfortunately both led to points. But this Cowboys defense held the Falcons to 19 points. There were a few execution errors, but overall the plan turned out to be pretty sound.

Injuries: Ratliff hurt the same ankle he hurt in preseason but played in the second half. The Cowboys didn’t appear to lose anyone else during the game.

One more thing: This was the first game this season in which the Cowboys have not committed a turnover. This was the fourth game this season the Falcons have not committed a turnover. The Falcons are a plus-10 in turnover ratio, while Dallas is minus-11.

 

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