Sun, 27 Sep 2020

Falcons-Cowboys has makings of heavy-weight offensive slugfest

Atlanta Falcons
16 Sep 2020, 18:57 GMT+10

As both the Falcons and Cowboys continue to find their identities for the 2020 season, one thing remains true: They possess the offensive talent to put up some serious points Will McFadden

Over the course of an NFL season, opinions are shaped off of trends from each of the league's 32 teams. For a single game, however, variance can play a big role. And when it comes to variance, the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys have exceptionally high offensive ceilings.

The two teams head into their Week 2 matchup with identical 0-1 records. Yet, on paper, each team has an offense capable of going toe-to-toe with any defense and keep pace in any shootout. Although the Falcons and Cowboys scored just 25 and 17 points, respectively, in Week 1, they have the talent to explode any Sunday afternoon. If that variance tips in a positive direction for both offenses this Sunday, fans could be in for some major fireworks.

Let's just take a minute and look at the starting quarterbacks and skill position players for each offense and how productive they were in their season openers.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan: 37-of-53, 450 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception RB Todd Gurley: 14 rushes, 56 yards, 1 touchdown WR Julio Jones: 9 receptions, 157 yards WR Calvin Ridley: 9 receptions, 130 yards, 2 touchdowns WR Russell Gage: 9 receptions, 114 yards TE Hayden Hurst: 3 receptions, 38 yards

Dallas Cowboys

QB Dak Prescott: 25-of-39, 266 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 rushes, 30 yards RB Ezekiel Elliott: 22 rushes, 96 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 receptions, 31 yards, 1 touchdown WR Amari Cooper: 10 receptions, 81 yards WR CeeDee Lamb: 5 receptions, 59 yards WR Michael Gallup: 3 receptions, 50 yards TE Dalton Schultz: 1 reception, 11 yards

Now, the Falcons' passing totals were through the roof in Week 1, but that largely has to do with them trailing by two scores for the better part of the second half. Still, never before have the Falcons had three 100-yard receivers in the same game, and it's a testament to the talent Atlanta has at that position.

By spending their first-round pick on Oklahoma Sooners star CeeDee Lamb, a player several draft experts believed was the best receiver in the draft, the Cowboys loaded up at the position as well. Despite failing to top 100 yards against the Los Angeles Rams and star corner Jalen Ramsey, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup were each 1,000-yard receivers in 2019. Again, this is a trio of receivers that looks as good as any on paper, and they each had big moments in their close loss to the Rams.

Atlanta made a concerted effort to enact a more balanced approach to its offense against the Seattle Seahawks, and everything was going to plan for at least one half. The Falcons' newest offensive weapon in the backfield, former All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, looked sharp and fresh in the first two quarters against Seattle, and he scored the team's first touchdown of the season on a diving attempt from the 1-yard line.

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The Falcons will look to again get him going against Dallas, and they may be able to take advantage of the absence of Leighton Vander Esch in the heart of the Cowboys defense. Vander Esch sustained a broken collarbone in the season opener and is expected to miss several weeks. Without him in the middle of the defense, the Rams had success running right up the middle, a blueprint the Falcons could look to duplicate.

Dallas already possesses the balance that Atlanta hopes to attain. Despite the weapons at receiver and a talented quarterback in Dak Prescott, it's running back Ezekiel Elliott that is the true heartbeat of this offense. The Cowboys operate extremely well when they are on schedule and ahead of the chains, and it's Elliott who helps them stay that way.

Since he entered the league in 2016, only Gurley (49) has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott (41), but the Cowboys star is the leader in rushing yards with 5,501 to Gurley's 4,354, which ranks second.

At the tight end position, Hayden Hurst remains a bit of an unknown for Falcons fans, but he showed the type of athleticism he possesses with a remarkable 27-yard diving catch against the Seahawks. In Atlanta's offense, there's always the potential for the tight end to go off. In Dallas, starting tight end Blake Jarwin sustained a season-ending injury against Los Angeles, and it remains to be seen what Dalton Schultz has to offer.

Ultimately, though, the two quarterbacks in this game, Matt Ryan and Prescott, are capable of getting the best out of whoever is around them. Ryan looked in sync with his three receivers throughout Sunday's game, targeting each of them 12 times and never letting one go too long without touching the ball.

Prescott, despite receiving praise for his athleticism, is at his best when he's using his mobility to buy time in the pocket before getting it to a playmaker in space. Unlike the Seahawks, the Cowboys have more of a timing offense, and Prescott is getting much better at distributing the ball effectively. Now, he has one more dynamic weapon to utilize.

Despite allowing just 20 points to the Rams, the Cowboys had a tough time slowing down the L.A. offense. They allowed a total of 422 yards - 153 on the ground and 269 through the air - and sacked Jared Goff just one time. The Rams also converted 53 percent of their third-down chances and out-possessed the Cowboys 35:38 to 24:22.

Atlanta, meanwhile, despite its improved pass rush in Week 1, didn't do much to slow down Russell Wilson, who had only four incomplete passes. The Falcons allowed 383 yards, including 299 through the air. One positive from Week 1 for Atlanta was allowing just 84 rushing yards to Seattle, but the Cowboys will be much more likely to hammer Elliott on the ground more often than the 20 carries the Seahawks gave their runners.

Dallas also has an X-factor on offense to spell Elliott in the form of second-year back Tony Pollard. A dynamic runner and receiver, Pollard had two 100-yard rushing performances as a rookie despite seeing no more than 13 carries in either game. He doesn't take many touches to get going, so the Cowboys offense likely won't miss a beat when is star running back is off the field.

As both the Falcons and Cowboys continue to find their identities for the 2020 season, one thing remains true: They possess the offensive talent to put up some serious points on opponents on any given week. If Week 2 proves to be one of those games for both teams, this could turn into an offensive heavy-weight fight with both Atlanta and Dallas looking to deliver the knockout blow.

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