NFL PREVIEW: ATLANTA FALCONS (0-1) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (0-1)
WEEK 2 // SUNDAY, SEPT. 20, 2020 // 1:00 PM ET // AT&T STADIUM // REFEREE: BRAD ROGERS
REGULAR SEASON HISTORY:
LEADER: Cowboys lead all-time series, 15-11
STREAKS: Falcons have won 3 of past 4
LAST GAME: 11/18/18: Cowboys 22 at Falcons 19
LAST GAME AT SITE: 9/27/15: Falcons 39, Cowboys 28
QB MATT RYAN passed for 450 yards & 2 TDs in Week 1. Has 51,636 pass yards & surpassed HOFer JOHN ELWAY (51,475) for 9th-most in NFL history. Passed for 285 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs & 109.1 rating in last game at Dal. Had 300+ pass yards in 6 of his 8 starts on road in 2019. • RB TODD GURLEY had 56 rush yards & rush TD in Atl. debut in Week 1. Has 253 scrimmage yards (126.5 per game) & 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush) in 2 career games vs. Dal. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. Dal. with TD catch. Leads NFL with 71 scrimmage TDs since 2015. • WR JULIO JONES had 9 catches for 157 yards last week. Has 16 career games with 150+ rec. yards, 4th-most in NFL history. Reached 800 receptions in his 127th game in Week 1, 2ndfastest to 800 in NFL history. Has 468 rec. yards (117 per game) & 3 rec. TDs in 4 career games vs. Dal. WR CALVIN RIDLEY had career-best 9 receptions for 130 yards & 2 TDs last week, his 3rd career game with 2+ TD catches. WR RUSSELL GAGE set career-highs in catches (9) & rec. yards (114) in Week 1. Jones, Ridley & Gage are 1st trio of teammates each with 9+ receptions & 100+ rec. yards in same game in NFL history. • DT GRADY JARRETT had 1.5 sacks last week, his 4th career game with 1.5+ sacks. Aims for his 4th in row with sack. DE TAKKARIST MCKINLEY had sack & PD last week. DE DANTE FOWLER had 0.5 sacks in Atl. debut in Week 1. LB DEION JONES led team with 9 tackles & had TFL in Week 1. Had 4 tackles, 2 TFL & PD in his last game vs. Dal. (11/12/17).
QB DAK PRESCOTT passed for 266 yards & TD vs. 0 INTs for 92.5 rating in Week 1. Had 2,620 pass yards (327.5 per game) & 20 TDs vs. 7 INTs for 108.7 rating & 2 rush TDs in 8 home starts in 2019. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. Atl. with rush TD. • RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT had 127 scrimmage yards (96 rush, 31 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) last week. Leads NFL with 39 games of 100+ scrmimage yards since 2016. Had 924 scrimmage yards (115.5 per game) & 7 TDs (6 rush, 1 rec.) in 8 home games last season. Had 201 scrimmage yards (122 rush, 79 rec.) & rush TD in last meeting. • WR AMARI COOPER led team with 10 receptions & 81 rec. yards in Week 1, his 8th career game with 10+ catches. Has 87 receptions for 1,420 yards (109.2 per game) & 11 rec. TDs in 13 career home games with Dal. Rookie WR CEEDEE LAMB had 5 catches for 59 yards in NFL debut last week. WR MICHAEL GALLUP had 50 rec. yards in Week 1. Had 5 rec. TDs in 7 home games last season. • DE ALDON SMITH had career-high 11 tackles & sack in Week 1, his 1st sack since 11/15/15. DE EVERSON GRIFFEN has sack in 2 of his past 3 vs. Atl. LB JAYLON SMITH tied for team-lead with 11 tackles last week. Has 5+ tackles in each of his past 16 home games. CB CHIDOBE AWUZIE had INT in Week 1, his 4th career INT. Aims for his 3rd in row at home with 2+ PD. Had 7 tackles in last meeting. S DARIAN THOMPSON had 10 tackles last week, his 2nd career 10+ tackle game.
The Cowboys won the most-recent meeting between these teams in 2018 in Atlanta, a 22-19 victory on Brett Maher’s 42-yard field goal as time expired. The Falcons had won the previous three games in the series.
Dallas lost its opener Sunday night at the Rams, 20-17. Since the start of last season, the Cowboys are 1-7 (.125) in one-score games (second worst in NFL; Bengals, 0-9) compared to 7-2 (.778) in games decided by nine or more points (t-sixth best in NFL).
The Falcons are 0-1 for a third straight year after Sunday’s 38-25 home loss to Seattle — the most points allowed in their season opener since 1987 at Tampa Bay (48-10 loss). The Falcons dropped to 12-2 all-time when gaining 500+ total yards (504), with the only other loss coming last year versus Seattle as well (510).
Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards in Week 1, his sixth career 400-yard game and most yards in any career loss. Three Falcons had at least 100 receiving yards (Julio Jones, 157; Calvin Ridley, 130; and Russell Gage, 114), the first such game in Falcons history.
Dak Prescott hasn’t been intercepted in his last 223 pass attempts going back to last November, the longest streak in Cowboys history. Troy Aikman held the previous mark at 216 passes in 1999.
Dallas had an NFL-best +81 scoring differential in the fourth quarter last season, while Atlanta ranked fourth at +54. They were the only two teams ranking in the top 10 of the category that did not reach the playoffs.
ON THE AIRWAVES TV: FOX (1:00 PM ET): Kevin Burkhardt, Daryl Johnston, Pam Oliver (field reporter) SIRIUS: 108 (Atl), 83 (Dal) | XM: 380 (Atl), 225 (Dal)
Mike McCarthy got the sentimental stuff out of the way before his first home game as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, in the stadium where he won his Super Bowl with Green Bay a decade ago.
After getting hired, McCarthy wanted to know how long the ride was from team headquarters to AT&T Stadium, so he made the trip. Before a glorified practice in Dallas’ $1.2 billion home during training camp, McCarthy took himself back in time.
When the Cowboys play Atlanta in a meeting of 0-1 teams Sunday, McCarthy will be thinking about home-field advantage – with a limited number of fans, of course – and other things associated with taking the proud franchise where it hasn’t been in the playoffs in 25 years.
“I’ve had the chance to do the walk down memory lane,” McCarthy said. “I’m really kind of past that and just want to establish ourselves at home this year.”
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McCarthy’s Dallas debut coincided with the opening of the new stadium in Los Angeles, and the Cowboys lost to the Rams 20-17. The Falcons fell to Seattle 38-25 despite 450 yards passing from Matt Ryan.
Atlanta lost four of its first five games in 2018 and began 1-7 a year ago on the way to a pair of 7-9 finishes. The first 0-2 start in six seasons under Dan Quinn would further cloud the future of a coach who likely needs to make the playoffs to keep his job.
“That’s kind of something we preach around here a lot, be where your feet are,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “Wherever you are right in that moment, wherever you are right at that time. Keep looking forward.”
Dak Prescott had a big first half leading the Dallas offense against the Rams, but the Cowboys scored just three second-half points and couldn’t produce with a chance to tie or win late. The theme was all-too-familiar after a disappointing 2019, when Dallas was 1-6 in one-score games.
“I take pride in having the ball in my hands late in the game,” Prescott said. “I’m not very proud of the way I’ve handled it and the team has handled it recently. But it’s something I’m sure will change. Everybody has got to embrace that.”
WHAT’S THE NUMBER?
The Cowboys continue to be vague about how many fans will be allowed. Perhaps speaking out of turn, McCarthy volunteered 25% capacity in a stadium with 80,000 permanent seats. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has authorized up to 50% capacity in stadiums.
Regardless, it will be the first game with fans for both teams. The Falcons didn’t allow fans in their opener, same with the Rams at palatial SoFi Stadium.
“I just didn’t think it was going to be that quiet,” McCarthy said of the LA opener. “We’ll have some live energy in the building. I’m pretty confident the music and the game operations will be a little different than it was this past week.”
SPREADING IT AROUND
Dallas Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper suggested the possibility of three 1,000-yard receivers after the Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round to join him and Michael Gallup. The Falcons are off to a much better start in that regard.
The second-most prolific passing game of Ryan’s career was most notable because of three receivers surpassing 100 yards. Julio Jones led with 154 yards, followed by Calvin Ridley with 130 and Russell Gage at 114 – each with nine catches.
Gage’s performance was especially encouraging. A sixth-round pick out of LSU in 2018, he is getting a shot to play a much bigger role as the third receiver.
“He’s always been a guy who I thought had a lot of talent,” Ryan said. “You’re always unsure when a guy gets his opportunity, is he going to be able to handle that role and do it week in and week out? He certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
ZEKE/GURLEY ROUND 4
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and Atlanta newcomer Todd Gurley – both top 10 draft picks a year apart – will meet for the fourth time. The first three were when Gurley was with the Rams, including a divisional playoff during the 2018 season.
Gurley leads in yards rushing, 256-249, with Elliott having a slight edge in yards receiving, 116-115. Elliott has five total touchdowns to Gurley’s four. Gurley has two wins, including the playoff game when LA reached the Super Bowl.
ON THE CORNERS
The Falcons will be looking to tighten up their coverage after Seattle’s Russell Wilson did whatever he pleased in Week 1, completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Most notably, Isaiah Oliver was burned on a fourth-and-short play when DK Metcalf ran by him to haul in a 38-yard touchdown that helped break the game open for the Seahawks.
“It was definitely a technique issue,” Oliver said. “A drop step with my left foot put me behind the receiver immediately. … You do that with a good receiver and you’re always going to be a couple of yards behind on any route he runs.”
The Falcons’ other starting cornerback is rookie A.J. Terrell, who’ll have his hands full trying to cope with the Dallas trio. Look for the Cowboys to try to exploit Atlanta’s secondary youth.