Welcome to the Bird Gauntlet: Can Cowboys take flight vs. Falcons?

Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys face the Atlanta Falcons to commence The Bird Gauntlet.

While other teams want to win the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys look to run the Bird Gauntlet.

It’s a weird scheduling quirk, but it’s something on the table for “America’s Team” this year. The Cowboys will face all five of the NFL teams with birds for mascots in 2020, beginning with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town on Sunday afternoon. There are only 12 NFC teams ever capable of running the Bird Gauntlet and 2020 chose the Cowboys. Can they take off vs. the Dirty Birds?

It’d be a shame if the Cowboys fail in the first run of the Bird Gauntlet.

Before we get into the whole “can they beat the Falcons at home?” thing, we must fully understand and appreciate what the Cowboys have in front of them this year. Why are they in this Bird Gauntlet? What did they do to deserve this type of avian punishment? And what are the chances they’ll be able to navigate this aerial onslaught to become The Champion of the Birds?

First, let’s understand what is the Bird Gauntlet. There are five teams who decide if an opponent can ever run it: The Arizona Cardinals, the Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks. Unless the Washington Football Team becomes a sixth bird team in 2021, this is the quintet of warm-blooded, feathered, winged killers from the sky.

Because there is a 4:1 ratio of NFC bird species compared to the AFC prototypes, only NFC teams not named after birds can take part in the most sacred run of the Bird Gauntlet. For the sake of branding, here are The Bird Gauntlet Dirty Dozen. These 12 teams can be summoned by the most hateful football gods to run it every so often. For now, it can only be the dirtiest of dozens.

The Bird Gauntlet Dirty Dozen
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Chicago Bears
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Detroit Lions
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New Orleans Saints
  • New York Giants
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Washington Football Team

To be able to run the Bird Gauntlet, this is what is required out of the Dirty Dozen’s 16-game schedule. The most important thing is their respective division must play the AFC North as part of the four-year divisional rotation. You must face those Ebony Birds if you want to run this gauntlet. Otherwise, it doesn’t count and deep down in your very soul, you know that to be true.

To get the other four teams (Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Seahawks), you can’t be one of those teams, I’m sorry. It helps to play in one of Fearsome NFC Foursome’s divisions, as you’ll be getting a bird team twice in the NFC East and NFC South, and four times if you play in the NFC West. The three-year NFC divisional rotation and competitive balance is the way to get all four on this quest.

Now that we understand how one of the Dirty Dozen is selected, we must look at what the Cowboys are up against this year in their run of the Bird Gauntlet. Because they play in the NFC East, they must face the hated Eagles twice. They’d have to go 6-0 to run the Bird Gauntlet. Since the original Cleveland Browns became the Ravens, no team has run the Bird Gauntlet since 1992.

Dallas Cowboys 2020 Bird Gauntlet Schedule

  • Sept. 20: vs. Atlanta Falcons (AT&T Stadium)
  • Sept. 27: at Seattle Seahawks (CenturyLink Field)
  • Oct. 19: vs. Arizona Cardinals (AT&T Stadium)***
  • Nov. 1: at Philadelphia Eagles (Lincoln Financial Field)**
  • Dec. 3: at Baltimore Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium)*
  • Dec. 27: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (AT&T Stadium)

*= Thursday Night Football
**= Sunday Night Football
***= Monday Night Football

The good news for the Cowboys is they don’t stink this year. They have expectations to win the NFC East and maybe have an outside shot at reaching the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1995. Unfortunately, the five teams comprising the Bird Gauntlet this season are also playoff-viable. Baltimore and Seattle are elite, while Arizona, Atlanta and Philadelphia are feisty.

So are the Cowboys beating the Falcons in the Bird Gauntlet or not, Buhler?

Because the Falcons are seen as arguably the weakest of the Cowboys’ five winged foes this season, it gives “America’s Team” a good shot at running it out of the gate. Atlanta couldn’t stop Russell Wilson last week at home through the air in their Week 1 defeat. However, Seattle might win the NFC and them Dirty Birds led the NFL in passing last week with 450 yards through the air.

While the margin of defeat in Week 1 was significantly closer for the Cowboys in their primetime road loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Rams aren’t nearly as good as Seattle is. They’re in the same middle-of-the-pack pecking order with the Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Cowboys, etc. These are not Super Bowl teams, but could certainly be playoff teams if they don’t lay too many eggs.

For the Cowboys to beat the Dirty Birds, here’s what they must do. In case you didn’t know, the Falcons are my team and I am well aware of their ability to suck at football most of the time. They are extremely beatable because Dan Quinn’s team loves to beat itself, especially when it has a 25-point lead in a Super Bowl and an offensive coordinator who can’t get out of Dodge fast enough.

To stop the Falcons’ offensive attack, find weaknesses in the overdrafted offensive line with the pass rush, breathe on Matt Ryan and he’ll hit the turf like a sack of potatoes. Then, you must eliminate Todd Gurley from doing anything in the ground game. If he’s averaging three yards per carry after 10 rushing attempts, Dirk Koetter will abandon the run like a bad dad does his family.

Sure, Ryan will move the sticks because he’s a borderline Hall of Famer with three excellent wide receivers in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and an emerging Russell Gage. However, he doesn’t have elite arm strength, so he’ll get a pass tipped for sure the Cowboys defense can definitely pick off and return to most glorious and delicious defensive pay dirt. It happens ALL THE TIME, guys!

Now that you know how to stop them Dirty Birds, you need to further attack them offensively. Atlanta has a good pass rush (finally, we think, maybe). Grady Jarrett is going to be a problem, as will likely be Dante Fowler Jr. and maybe even Takkarist McKinley, who dressed up like he plays in the University of Texas marching band on his two-hour flight to Dallas on Friday. He’s a funny guy.

There are other good players on the defense like linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal. However, the Falcons are at their most vulnerable at cornerback. Dak Prescott needs to play like a top-10 quarterback in the league and attack the Dirty Birds outside the numbers as if they were stupid Ole Miss Rebel Landsharks in an Egg Bowl deciding which team will be bowl eligible.

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Mix in a few punishing runs with Ezekiel Elliott and his tacky belly tat, and you might get this. Do your part to tell Amari Cooper to not drop passes near the sticks because he loves to do that more than Zeke does getting fed. Also, remember that Mike McCarthy is a Super Bowl-winning head coach and Quinn infamously blew a 25-point lead in the third quarter over in Houston in 2017.

Simply put, the Cowboys have no excuses to not run the Bird Gauntlet here in Week 2, so just do it!

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