DALLAS — After losing their season opener, the Dallas Cowboys are back in the familiar spot of needing to win a game to avoid going 0-2. Losing their debut isn’t the optimal start to the season, but the last three times they’ve been in this position, the team came away victorious in Week 2 and eventually found themselves in the playoffs.
The run of 0-1 starts to playoff endings began in 2014 with Tony Romo. Dak Prescott pulled off the feat in 2016 and 2018 and he’ll try to continue the even year tradition as Dallas looks to bounce back from a disappointing showing in Week 1.
Week 2 is too early in the year for a game to be in must win territory for the Cowboys, but with a Week 3 trip to Seattle to take on a dangerous Seahawks team looming, it would be in Dallas’ best interest to beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Here are three keys for the Cowboys to get the season back on the right track and come away victorious over the Falcons:
Protect QB Dak Prescott
When Prescott got a little sidetracked during the 2017 season, it began with the game against the Falcons where Ezekiel Elliott was serving a suspension. The Cowboys were also without LT Tyron Smith and that absence proved more notable as Prescott took a beating and his game took some time to recover.
Déjà vu is coming for the Cowboys again, as Smith suffered a neck injury and is questionable to play.
If Smith can’t go, the team needs to protect Prescott better than they did in 2017. RT La’el Collins is also still on the injured reserve list. Being without your two starting tackles is going to make life difficult for the offense. If Prescott is sacked eight times again, it’s difficult to see a path to victory.
The Falcons defense got torn up last week and the Cowboys have the offensive weapons to do the same, but they need to keep the QB upright. Protect Prescott and the offense should put up enough points to win the game.
Pressure Matt Ryan
The Cowboys have a good group of pass rushers who weren’t nearly as effective as they had hoped they would be against the Rams. LA head coach Sean McVay schemed to get the ball out of Jared Goff’s hand quickly so Dallas’ edge rushers couldn’t get to the QB.
Ryan and the Falcons have a different offense. They take more deep shots down the field to their star wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Those throws take more time to develop and Ryan isn’t as nimble as Goff, which should give the Dallas pass rushers time to get to the QB.
Ryan was sacked 48 times in 2019 – tied for the most in the NFL – so the pass rush can get to him. If the Cowboys can pressure Ryan, it would go a long way towards coming away with a victory.
The Cowboys got one turnover against the Rams and it wasn’t enough. In order to increase their odds of winning the game, the defense needs to give the offense some short fields to work with. Keeping the Falcons on their heels, scoring points, and making sure the Dallas defense stays off the field is a winning formula.
If Dallas’ offense can get a lead and force the Falcons to play catchup, the pass rushers can come after Ryan and hopefully force some mistakes. Mistakes lead to turnovers and turnovers lead to victory.
The task to avoid an 0-2 start was easier earlier in the week when there was nothing wrong with Tyron Smith. Now, the injuries are piling up and if Smith can’t go, the Cowboys will have their backs against a wall.
Protecting Prescott, attacking Ryan, and creating turnovers are three ways the Cowboys can even their record at 1-1.
Week 2 Prediction
It’s an even year so the Dallas Cowboys survive the injuries and open the home portion of their docket with a 37-31 victory over the Falcons.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys will bounce back against Atlanta to even their record? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.