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Week 10 Game Recap: Dallas Cowboys 7, Atlanta Falcons 27


What you need to know

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys played their first game of the season without finally-suspended feature back Ezekiel Elliott. The replacement committee of Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, and Darren McFadden was lackluster for a vast majority of the game. The bigger concern to Dallas’ imbalanced offense was the futility of the offensive line, hemorrhaging eight sacks of Dak Prescott and struggling to control the line of scrimmage. When faced with a hearty deficit, the pressure on Prescott prevented any comeback effort. With strong defensive fronts in the Eagles and Chargers up next, Dallas has little time to correct their offensive line and balance concerns on offense to keep Dak Prescott from a bevy of pressure and long-yardage situations.

Atlanta Falcons

The Cowboys were missing Ezekiel Elliott, and more importantly, All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith in this game. Smith’s absence was the most difficult for Dallas to overcome. Falcons defensive linemen Adrian earned a team-record six sacks of Dak Prescott – all against Smith’s replacement Chaz Green – including additional pressures and two strips of the quarterback. Dallas also lost its best linebacker Sean Lee in the first quarter, which led to huge creases and undisciplined gap coverage from the remaining Dallas linebackers. Despite Atlanta missing Devonta Freeman, the Falcons had more depth to sustain quality play than Dallas with its losses. This included Tevin Coleman, who earned multiple strong gains when it counted most. He wasn’t as shifty or as consistent as Devonta Freeman, but he was productive enough to force Dallas to respect Atlanta’s play-action fakes. Atlanta took a permanent lead in the second quarter, thanks to a pass interference call against Dallas on a target intended for Taylor Gabriel that culminated with a Tevin Coleman plunge behind defensive tackle-turned-fullback, Dontari Poe. Atlanta then mounted a six-minute, thirty-second third-quarter drive with a good balance of run and pass and capped it off with a short post route from Ryan to Justin Hardy that extended the lead to 10. Atlanta dominated the remainder of the second half with a balanced attack and extended the lead beyond the Cowboys’ reach.

Dallas Cowboys

QB Dak Prescott, 63 offensive snaps, Pass: 20 - 30 - 176 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 6 - 42 - 1
The usually-efficient Prescott faced an uphill climb against Atlanta. Without Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas run game struggled to execute outside of a stretch of a few chunk gains by Alfred Morris in the third quarter, leading to long-yardage situations and Prescott evading (or succumbing) to pocket pressure. Prescott’s mobility was on full display when Dallas’ offense was its comparative best this week. On Dallas’ lone touchdown drive of the game, Prescott put on a show with back-to-back red zone plays. On the first, Prescott extended the third down play to convert to Rod Smith as an outlet receiver and the next saw Prescott use boot action to find the end zone for a touchdown. Stalled drives on the fringe of scoring range and obvious passing down sacks were the theme of the game, however, as Tyron Smith was absent from his left tackle perch as the position became a turnstile for defensive pressure. Even in garbage time, down by three scores in the fourth quarter, Prescott struggled to amass meaningful yardage outside of short passes to Jason Witten. Prescott’s highlight throw amidst the consistent pressure was a beautiful perimeter pass to Brice Butler on third-and-long. Prescott’s six rushes and 43 yards on the ground both mark season highs. Unless Dallas’ offensive line improves quickly before facing the Eagles and Chargers over the next two weeks, Prescott’s mobility will be paramount to any sustained drives for Dallas’ offense.

RB Alfred Morris, 22 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 53 - 0
As expected, Morris was the lead back for Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott starting his suspension in Week 10. The Dallas offensive line provided minimal help to the Cowboys rushing attack, however, as Morris struggled throughout the first half to find the second level of the defense. In the third quarter strung together three runs of at least 10 yards, two of which were well-defined holes for Morris to gain momentum into the secondary. This stretch of three carries encompassed most of Morris’ production on the day as Dallas fell behind as the game progressed and Rod Smith, the passing down back of choice, saw more playing time. On the positive side, Morris had a solid market share of snaps when the game was within reach if Dallas can hang in future games to sustain Morris’ volume with better blocking at the point of attack.

RB Rod Smith, 38 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 14 - 0, Rec: 4 - 15 - 0 (6 targets)
Smith played ahead of Darren McFadden as the second back to Alfred Morris’ starter status against Atlanta. Smith assumed the former Morris role to Ezekiel Elliott with sporadic snaps on rushing downs until the game turned into catch-up mode. Smith played more over the final quarter and a half as Dallas shifted to a pass-first approach. Smith piled up much of his passing down production when the game was already decided. The good news for Smith is he was firmly ahead of Darren McFadden, who saw a rogue snap or two during the game.

RB Darren McFadden, 1 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - -2 - 0
McFadden was active with Ezekiel Elliott beginning his six-game suspension this week against Atlanta, but was a distant third in the running back rotation. Alfred Morris was the lead back with Rod Smith in the secondary role and seeing passing game work. McFadden did not get into the game until the fourth quarter and was stuffed on his lone carry with backfield penetration, a common theme of Dallas’ offensive line play in the blowout road loss.

WR Dez Bryant, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 39 - 0 (8 targets)
Bryant was active early for the Dallas offense as their running game struggled to find consistency against Atlanta. Bryant led the team in targets, but did not make an impact on any deeper routes. Bryant’s production came on three hitch routes and an intermediate reception, relying on after-the-catch skills for any additional yardage. Bryant also dropped a slant route target on the day. This week marked Bryant’s second-lowest yardage total of the season and his third straight game without a touchdown. With Atlanta being a pass efficiency defense to exploit and the next three opponents top-half passing defense units, Bryant and the Dallas offensive line in pass protection will need to be at the top of their respective games for a short-term turnaround.

WR Cole Beasley, 41 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (3 targets)
Beasley was buried on the pecking order for targets against Atlanta, logging only three looks (10% of the team total) from Dak Prescott. Beasley has still yet to eclipse 40 yards in any game this season. Beasley had a quality low reception late in the first half called back by penalty. His two highlight receptions later in the game including another low grab, as Prescott struggled with pressure and accuracy more than usual this week, and a deep out route buried in garbage time of the road loss.

WR Brice Butler, 22 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 30 - 0 (1 targets)
Butler made the lone downfield play of Dallas’ woeful offensive showing in Atlanta. Butler is averaging more than 24 yards-per-catch on the season as a situational deep threat. Butler’s wow play came when the game was still in doubt. Hand-fighting with the defensive back added to the catch difficulty as Butler high-pointed the long sideline target for the third-and-long conversion. Butler also corralled a fake punt reception to convert, aligned as the gunner, but was called for offensive pass interference on the play. Butler continues to make plays with his sparse opportunities.

WR Terrance Williams, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (4 targets)
After one of the best games of his career in Week 9, Williams was a shadow in Week 10 against Atlanta. Dallas’ passing game struggled to find any impact down the field, relying on short routes when stringing together any rhythm in their drives. Williams’ lone reception came on a quick in-cut in the final minute of the first half with no after-the-catch yardage available. Even in garbage time, it was Jason Witten to collect receptions as he padded his stat line, not Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams.

TE Jason Witten, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 59 - 0 (7 targets)
Witten led the team in receptions by a decent margin this week, but aggregated his catches in garbage time of the blowout loss in Atlanta. Outside of a single Brice Butler deep reception, Dallas’ passing game struggled to win on more than short-range hitches, crossing routes, and out routes. Witten collected five of his receptions in the closing minutes, including a seam route for close to 20 yards. Witten did not see a target until close to halftime and his box score impact did not align with how his production was obtained. With Dallas’ offensive line struggles, Witten is a candidate to see more in-line time to protect Dak Prescott with more strong pass-rushing units on deck for Dallas in the coming weeks.


Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 65 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 29 - 215 - 2 TD / 1 INT
Mohamed Sanu tipped Ryan’s first pass after the cornerback hit Sanu from behind on a curl route and Xavier Woods made the interception deep in Atlanta territory. Even so, Ryan was sharp and his timing with his receivers during the first two series – including this play, was a strong. Ryan later overshot a wide-open Marvin Hall on a deep cross to the left sideline during the second series of the game. After that, Ryan and the Falcons stuck to short and intermediate timing routes with greater success – especially with the aid of play-action passing. Ryan took advantage of a 17-yard run by Tevin Coleman to open the 3rd quarter with a 24-yard play-action crossing route to Julio Jones to get Atlanta inside the Dallas 35. He converted a third-down pass to Taylor Gabriel with a tight-window throw at the Dallas six while breaking the pocket up the middle and throwing on the move. Ryan then capped the long drive with a post route to Hardy in the back of the end zone. Ryan later found Gabriel in the fourth quarter with an excellent dig route for a long gain that flipped the field and led to consecutive play-action drag routes to Austin Hooper to extend the lead to 17.

RB Tevin Coleman, 44 offensive snaps, Rush: 20 - 83 - 1, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
When Coleman had to deal with penetration in the backfield, he failed. Anthony Hitchens forced Coleman to jump cut into an occupied crease on 2nd and short, forcing a one-yard loss and a 3rd and 3 during the second possession. Penetration from David Irving through right guard stuffed Coleman on 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 47 and forced Coleman to run into his lineman and the defender while trying to spin inside of them. He lost four. However, when Coleman earned a downhill runway behind a full back or as a single back, Coleman put Dallas on its heels and opened the play-action passing game for Atlanta. He made a nice cut inside the safety on a 1st and 10 run off right tackle from the 13 of Atlanta, stumbling past the defender for a gain five. While it was the type of run that Freeman would have made without stumbling and probably gained more, it was the type of play that Coleman couldn’t have made three years ago because of his footwork. Later, Coleman took a toss play to the right end and dipped inside a lead block in the flat for a gain of 20 up the right sideline before he was pulled down by the earhole, and dropped at the boundary. This tackle incurred a face mask penalty and got Atlanta across midfield. He then lost a yard on a run up the middle where Irving once gain beat the right guard with penetration into the backfield. When Atlanta reached the end zone, Coleman tried to leap over the top on a 1st and goal run from the Dallas two. He scored a play later on a violent run up the gut behind Dontari Poe and pushed through with good second effort. This score put Atlanta ahead late in the first half. To begin the second half, Coleman earned 17 yards when Dallas’ two linebackers in nickel took the same gap and left open a huge crease. Coleman had several strong gains in the second half, including runs of 15 and 18 yards on outside zone runs.

RB Terron Ward, 17 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 23 - 0
He made a solid block up the middle against the blitz during the second drive. Later in the first half, Dallas stuffed Ward for a loss with penetration. Ward then earned a carry up right guard for two yards from the 13 of Dallas. In the second half, Ward gained over 20 yards with a cutback around right end on a 2nd and 1 run to get Atlanta inside the Dallas 15. He followed up with three yards up the middle.

RB Devonta Freeman, 2 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 3 - 0
Anthony Hitchens delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Freeman during his second carry of the game and he was clearly woozy as he slowly climbed to his feet. It was the last we saw of Freeman. He left the field with 6:26 in the first quarter and did not return.

WR Julio Jones, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 57 - 0 (8 targets)
His first catch was a curl of seven yards against tight coverage in the left flat and he had great timing with Ryan. He followed up two plays later with a great extension against tight coverage on a slant on 3rd and 3. He had to leave the field after the play and walk off his lingering injury. Jones caught a stop route near the right boundary to begin the third drive. He worked through the defensive back to get the first down with the move to the inside. He was again on the sideline during the third series, favoring his leg. He gained five yards on a screen pass up the left flat and nearly broke it. Once again, he had to leave the field. He got inside the Dallas 35 on a deep crossing route off play-action for 24 yards. He made a tough adjustment on a crossing route that Ryan delivered under pressure at the Atlanta three in heavy traffic. Jones dropped a 3rd and 6 pass on a short in-cut inside the Dallas 5, leading a 29-yard field goal to extend the lead to 20.

WR Taylor Gabriel, 27 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 15 - 0, Rec: 3 - 58 - 0 (3 targets)
His first opportunity was a jet sweep to left end on 1st and 10 with 5:00 in the half. He picked up a good lead block by Austin Hooper at the numbers on a linebacker. This block opened a huge lane up the flat for a gain of 16. Gabriel drew a pass interference against the defender on a corner route late in the half that put Atlanta at the Dallas two. Gabriel made a good stab inside at the top of his stem that forced the defensive back to wrap the receiver at the waist as Gabriel broke outside. He caught a hitch in the flat, spun outside a defender, and fought for the first down during the initial drive of the third quarter. He earned another first down on 3rd and 6 at the 20 of Dallas when Ryan climbed the pocket and fired into a tight window over the middle where Gabriel made a leaping grab turning towards the trailing coverage at the Dallas six. Gabriel made the first man miss after catching a dig route in stride late in the third quarter for 34 yards and flipped the field to Dallas territory.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 29 - 0 (5 targets)
He tipped the first pass of the game on a curl route after he was hit in the back while trying to extend for the ball. The tipped ball was intercepted by Xavier Woods inside Atlanta territory. Sanu caught a five step in-cut for 11 yards into the thick of coverage, taking a hit from Sean Lee head-on within a step of catching the ball on this play-action pass. He caught a short outlet in the left flat on a play-action boot to the left by Ryan during the third series for three yards, setting up 3rd and 2. He got Atlanta into the red zone on a third-down pass over the middle before the two-minute warning. Late in the game, he held a defender on a Coleman run up the left sideline that nullified a touchdown.

WR Justin Hardy, 21 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 7 - 1 (2 targets)
His first catch was a four-yard gain on a screen pass to the left side during the first drive of the second half. Ryan found Hardy on a post route in the back of the end zone to cap a drive of six and a half minutes to begin the third quarter. Hardy was the outside trips receiver working behind the defense.

TE Austin Hooper, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 49 - 1 (6 targets)
He gained seven on 2nd and 14 on a crossing route near midfield during the second series, nearly breaking a tackle at the end of play. Hooper earned the first down on the next play; a route to the right flat. Hooper side-stepped the safety at the sideline and then stiff-armed a second defensive back to reach the first down marker before he extended to the 40 for a gain of 10. A few plays later, he earned nine yards on a 3rd and 11 late in the drive at the end of the quarter. This play set up a 50-yard field goal at the end of the quarter. Taylor Gabriel picked up a good lead block Austin Hooper against a linebacker at the numbers of the left flat on a jet sweep. Hooper’s efforts opened a huge lane up the flat for a gain of 16. Hooper caught a boot-action drag route in the shallow zone during the first drive of the third quarter on 2nd and 8. He caught the pass 3 yards down field, side-stepped the cornerback at the 26, earned the first down, and leaned though a wrap at the 20 for a gain of nearly 13. However, the officiating crew penalized Levine Tiololo for block in the back on Jaylen Smith and it nullified the play. Hooper put Atlanta inside the Dallas one on a play action drag route to the right flat from the Dallas 15. He caught the ball at the 13, worked up the right sideline, and leaped inside a defender shooting for his legs at the four. His momentum carried him to the one, and Atlanta extended its lead to 17 by running the same play to Hooper on the next snap.

TE Levine Toilolo, 30 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets)
Coleman and Ryan had a miscommunication with the nature of a 3rd and 2 during Atlanta’s third offensive series. Coleman presumed he was running a drag route to the right flat and it appeared Ryan was running a play-action fake or possibly a stretch play intended for the back to tack the exchange. Coleman was already exiting the backfield well away from Ryan’s fake and it forced Ryan to find Levine Toilolo in the middle of the field while avoiding pressure.