DALLAS — Week 1 of the NFL season should now be firmly in the rearview for the Dallas Cowboys. They can’t go back and change their game plan or the outcome of their 20-17 loss to the Rams. The officials aren’t going to suddenly decide to pick up that flag on Michael Gallup and call the team back to Los Angeles. The standings read that Dallas is 0-1 heading into their home opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
The loss wasn’t the start the team had in mind, but the most important thing that the Cowboys can do now is to learn from the loss and move on with an idea for what they can do better now that they have a game under their belt and actual football to evaluate. There are 15 more games to be played, so they have ample time to make adjustments.
Losing is never fun, but opening on the road against a team that is difficult to prepare for, especially with their tempo on offense, was a tough ask. With a new coaching staff that wasn’t afforded a usual training camp or preseason period, it’s possible that the Cowboys were a little bit behind the curve heading into their first game.
Here are some lessons the Cowboys can use moving forward to improve upon the Week 1 outcome:
Losing Week 1 isn’t a death blow
You never want to start off with a loss, but the same scenario has turned out fine for the Cowboys before in the Dak Prescott era. In fact, the Cowboys have made the playoffs the last three times they’ve lost their season opener.
The division also looks like it’s up for grabs again in 2020, with three of the four teams in the NFC East starting 0-1. The easiest way to the playoffs is to win the division, which is obviously still attainable.
Use more pre-snap motion
The offense, with its elite weapons, was supposed to be ready to put up points, but came away with just 17 against the Rams. That will usually get you beat in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s offense didn’t use nearly enough window dressing in the season opener and the Cowboys looked nothing like they did during 2019’s Week 1 win where they had plenty of pre-snap motion.
Dallas used pre-snap motion on just 4% of their offensive plays against the Rams. The Cowboys do have an impressive array of weaponry, but it could be even more explosive with some motion to help kick their offense into high gear.
Lining up and just hoping for the best because you have great players isn’t an ideal strategy and the Cowboys would benefit from some deception before the snap.
Attack the middle of the field
The offense did very little to attack the middle of the field or throw the ball deep to keep the Rams defense honest.
Some of their lack of aggression in both areas was because of the loss of TE Blake Jarwin early. Jason Witten’s heir apparent was supposed to be a seam buster on offense. Playing with rookie undrafted FA Terence Steele at RT didn’t help either, but you have to take your shots down the field to stretch the defense.
The Cowboys looked a little skittish throwing the ball while down a few starters. They were not aggressive enough on offense in Week 1 and that needs to change moving forward.
Catch the football
This isn’t really a lesson so much as it is something that needs to change. The Cowboys tied for a league-high with four drops in the season opener. Jarwin’s replacement Dalton Schultz had two and Amari Cooper had a big one in the fourth quarter that forced the team to punt. Making the reception and keeping the chains moving could have meant a much different outcome.
Nevertheless, there is no need to panic. The Cowboys have time to correct what went wrong. It’s a long season and everything that went awry last week can be set straight in Week 2.
We’ll find out what the Cowboys learned against the Falcons on Sunday.
Do you think that the Cowboys have learned their lesson and will bounce back against the Falcons? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.