It's here! It's here! It's here! The NFL 2015 Schedule is FINALLY upon us! Let's take a look at all of our matchups, how we've done against them most recently, and how we think we're going to do against them this year.
Week 1: Giants - September 13th @ 7:30pm CST on NBC
I’ve been waiting all February, March and April long for Sunday Night Football!
The New York Football Giants will be in town and on prime time as the Dallas Cowboys open the 2015 season. It’s no surprise to find the Cowboys on NBC’s Sunday Night Football; this will be the fifth time in the last ten seasons that the Cowboys begin their season in that time slot.
Last time we met…
The Cowboys and Giants last squared off at AT&T Stadium on October 19th, 2014. Gavin Escobar had a break-out day and snagged two TDs from Romo as the Cowboys cruised to a 31-21 win.
The Cowboys and Giants duo is no stranger to the Carrie Underwood anthem. They hit the field at Texas Stadium back in a 2007 season that began Romo’s first full year as the starter, and the Cowboys handled them 45-35.
In a rematch six years later - this time at Cowboys Stadium - the Cowboys rode six turnovers to a 36-31 win. Even though Odell Beckham Jr. might catch 10 amazing balls over Brandon Carr, I think the Cowboys’ offense will be too much for the “rebuilt” Giants secondary. 34-24, Cowboys.
Week 2: At Eagles - September 20th @ 3:25pm CST on Fox
Get ready for the barrage of DeMarco Murray talk. It will be EVERYWHERE.
This game is on September 20th, which is approximately five months from the time of my writing this, so Chip Kelly will probably have executed 48 more trades and signed 83 new quarterbacks. This will undoubtedly be Fox’s America’s Game of the Week and will feature the always dreadful combo of Troy and Buck on the call.
Last time we met…
The last time that the Dallas Cowboys traveled to Philadelphia (December 14th, 2014), a lot hung in the balance.
Two weeks prior the Eagles thumped the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, and seven days after that the Cowboys traveled to Chicago for a nice Bears beat down. It was very obvious that the winner of that game would take an extreme advantage for the division crown into the final stretch of the season.
The Cowboys jumped out to a 21-0 lead, survived 24 straight points from Philly, and found a way to put the game away, winning it 38-27.
The Eagles will have a shorter week than the Cowboys as they play the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night to start the season. There is a lot of media drama that is contingent on that game. Should there be no cohesion between all of Chip’s new toys, it’ll be a rough week for the former Duck Commander.
The Cowboys will know how important two straight division games are to start the year, and as last year’s 8-0 road warriors they should have no problem going into Philadelphia and getting the win. 30-16, Cowboys.
Week 3: Falcons - September 27th @ 12:00pm CST on Fox
Back to back birds. The Cowboys will come home from Philly only to play the team that the Eagles played to start the year, Atlanta.
Matt Ryan & Co. have had a difficult past two seasons. The change at head coach to Dan Quinn and the health of Julio Jones/Roddy White will most likely make them a better team. Justin Durant will be facing his former team and he’ll want to make a statement.
Last time we met…
The Cowboys most recently played the Falcons on November 4th, 2012 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Falcons were undefeated at the time and, while the Cowboys looked to break that streak, they ultimately fell short near the end by a score of 19-13.
Julio Jones scares me. Roddy White does not. Orlando Scandrick has really come on and, while he’s currently not reporting to voluntary workouts, he’s a very strong leader on this team. He’ll take away Julio to some degree and Atlanta will be forced to rely on an aging Roddy White.
Dez will be empowered by the Julio talk and have a great game. Cowboys improve to 3-0 by a margin of 24-10.
Week 4: At Saints - October 4th @ 7:30pm CST on NBC
I hope you like crawfish because the first game in October features the Cowboys heading down to the Bayou!
Sunday Night Football against the Saints is starting to feel like home. It seems like these two teams always meet in such a contest and it’s always a touchdown palooza.
Last time we met…
The ‘Boys last played Payton & Brees on a Sunday Night back in Week 4 (September 28th, 2014) of the 2014 NFL season. It wasn’t close as the Cowboys got off to a super hot start and rode the wheels of DeMarco Murray to a 38-17 victory.
While Dallas’ last appearance in the Superdome was one of the more embarrassing ones in franchise history, I think that this time will be different. Jimmy Graham is gone. Kenny Stills is gone. The Saints are going to be forced to depend on Mark Ingram and Marques Colston.
They struggled offensively last year and unless they get something huge in the draft, they won’t be who we’ve seen them be in seasons past. Cowboys win a shootout, 45-30.
Week 5: Patriots - October 11th @ 3:25pm CST on CBS
The World Champs are coming to town, and they’ll most likely be coming in 4-0 against an equally 4-0 Dallas Cowboys team.
This has actually happened before. The two teams faced off, each at 5-0, on October 14th, 2007 at Texas Stadium. They were the two hottest offenses in the league. Marion Barber had the most incredible 2-yard gain in NFL history and the Patriots trounced the Cowboys 48-27.
This will be Tom Brady’s first visit to AT&T Stadium and it’s going to be a huge battle on America’s Most Watched Network.
Last time we met…
America’s Team traveled to Gillette Stadium on October 16th, 2011 to take on the New England Patriots and in a rare occasion wore their Cowboy navy uniforms. It was a low scoring affair that saw the Patriots win, 20-16.
Look, these are the World Champs. They are coached by a future Hall of Famer. They are quarterbacked by a future Hall of Famer. More than anything they always find a way to win. Being completely realistic the Cowboys could drop this game, and in absolutely no shame, take their first loss of the season 28-24.
Week 6: Bye Week
Week 7: At Giants - October 25th @ 3:25pm CST on Fox
Raise your hand if you’re pumped to be finished with the Giants before November. Go ahead, raise it!
The Cowboys will travel to Met Life Stadium in what is always a great game against the G-Men. By Week 7 teams have started to find their groove so this will undoubtedly be one of those classic NFC East battles that we all know and love.
Last time we met…
The last time that this team traveled to the Meadowlands, Brandon Carr was a part of a highlight that would live on forever in NFL history.
On a Sunday Night affair, Odell Beckham Jr. introduced himself to Mr. Car - and to the rest of the world - with his ridiculous one-handed catch. As great as that was, it wasn’t enough.
Romo led the Cowboys on an incredible game winning drive, that featured a final play in which he had no less than seven seconds to throw, and won 31-28.
Coach Garrett will have done quite a bit of studying after the New England loss and through the bye week. He and the staff understand how pivotal these division games can be, and what a luxury it would be to sweep the Giants before November.
In a strong defensive game, the Cowboys will establish themselves among the contenders and win 27-14.
Week 8: Seahawks - November 1st @ 3:25pm CST on Fox
Alas, another America’s Game of the Week. Troy and Buck will be oh so anxious to remind the world that the Cowboys stormed into Seattle last year (a game that Joe Buck did not call due to his World Series conflicts) for an impressive and season-defining win.
The Seahawks will be hungry and looking to dispel the theory that the Cowboys have their number.
Last time we met…
Do I really need to remind you? Seriously, if you don’t know then throw away your computer right now. The Cowboys took it hard to the - at the time - defending World Champion Seahawks in THEIR HOUSE on October 12th, 2014 by a score of 30-23.
The victory put the Cowboys on the NFL map as a team that was to be taken seriously, and a team that could run the ball on anyone.
As much as I would love to believe that we do have Seattle’s number and that they are a different team on the road, they play with a ferocity that is very rare in the NFL. They will be very focused and determined to wax the Cowboys.
Even though the offense will score on their famed Legion of Boom, Seattle will edge us out 28-21.
Week 9: Eagles - November 8th @ 7:30pm CST on NBC
Prepare yourself. The DeMarco Murray & Chip Kelly - and potentially Tim Tebow - train is rolling into town. The story lines will be everywhere.
DeMarco Murray returning to face his former team, Chip Kelly’s new toys and how they’re jiving together, and if Tim Tebow is the quarterback, God have mercy on us all.
Last time we met…
We last hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving of 2014. It was a nightmare from start to finish as the Eagles steamrolled the Cowboys 33-10.
A lot of Cowboys fans like to give the team a pass on this game, as the players had a very short week. They played the Giants in New York on a Sunday night and had to turn around and play Philly less than four days later.
The Cowboys did very well on NBC’s Sunday Night Football last year, going 3-0. We’re a team that does well under the lights and the DeMarco Murray factor will help get the team hyped for the game. Cowboys win decisively 38-20.
Week 10: At Buccaneers - November 15th @ 12:00pm CST on Fox
This game will feature the Cowboys traveling to Tampa Bay to play what will - in all likelihood - be this year’s number one overall draft selection, Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium is one of the most iconic throughout the NFL, featuring a wooden ship that fires off cannons when the Bucs score. They go relatively unused...
Last time we met…
America’s Team hosted Greg Schiano’s version of the Buccaneers on September 23rd, 2012 at Cowboys Stadium. It was a sub par game in terms of excitement, although the Cowboys did win 16-10.
The biggest storyline surrounding this game was that Greg Schiano was one week off of his infamous attack-the-knee strategy against the New York Giants.
Assuming this team will be led by Jameis Winston, their offense isn’t exactly a pushover.
He’ll have huge targets in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to choose from. Let’s not forget that Gerald McCoy will be rushing Romo at will. I think this game will catch the Cowboys off guard and with the team coming off of a huge win against Philly, they might get lackadaisical and drop this one.
Tampa takes advantage of an emotionally spent Cowboys team, 24-21.
Week 11: At Dolphins - November 22nd @ 12:00pm CST on Fox
Back to back trips to the Sunshine State! The Cowboys will come home after a so-so performance in Tampa and begin preparation for Ndamukong Suh.
This game is also a rematch of Super Bowl VI (the first one that the Cowboys won) and a game against a former high-profile Texas high school quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.
Last time we met…
The last Super Bowl VI rematch happened on Thanksgiving 2011. It was a very different Dolphins team than we have today. Matt Moore hitting Brandon Marshall for a TD while Terrence Newman interfered with him is enough proof of that.
While the Dolphins weren’t an exceptional team in 2011, they gave the Cowboys a run for their money. In the end it wasn’t enough and the Cowboys beat them on a last second field goal (in Dan Bailey’s rookie year, I might add) to get the win 20-19.
This is the game before Thanksgiving. The Cowboys have made it a habit of making this game exciting. In 2011 they kicked a field goal (Dan Bailey the rookie again!) in overtime to beat the Redskins in Washington 27-14.
In 2012 they went to overtime again, this time at home against backup QB Brandon Weeden’s lowly Browns team, and Dan Bailey kicked us to a 23-20 victory.
2013 didn’t go to overtime, but it was a stressful finish as Tony Romo summoned all energy in New York and led a game winning drive that Dan Bailey finished to give us the 24-21 win.
2014 saw us in New York before Thanksgiving again - and Odell Beckham Jr. blow up again - but it was déjà vu as Tony Romo led an amazing fourth quarter comeback drive that he finished with a touchdown to Dez Bryant to seal the 31-28.
The Dolphins will be contenders in 2015 and, if history is any indicator, this will be a close Cowboys win decided by three points. Give me a 34-31 Cowboys win and stretchy pants to get ready for Thanksgiving!
Week 12: Panthers - November 26th @ 3:25pm CST on CBS
This will be the Carolina Panthers’ first appearance on Thanksgiving in their franchise’s history. It will be Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Kelvin Benjamin facing off against the Thanksgiving veterans.
It’s always great to get a bit of a throwback feel on Thanksgiving and see an NFC matchup on CBS. The navy Cowboys uniforms against the Panthers whites aren’t the greatest uniform matchup, but it’ll be a nice deviation from the norm.
Last time we met…
The last time we played the Panthers actually did feature Cowboys navy uniforms against their whites. It was October 21st, 2012 and a pretty snooze fest of a game. Ultimately the Cowboys won, with an awkward score, 19-14.
Two things stand out to me about this game:
- Morris Claiborne got his first career interception in this game. It was a tipped pass that sort of fell in his lap. Hopefully he can return to some sort of prominence in his 2015 campaign.
- I watched this game with some family and one person foolishly said that the Cowboys needed to trade Dez Bryant. Thank God we didn’t! Ha!
The Panthers will possess a high level of moxie as they step out under the Thanksgiving lights. The Cowboys will do all that they can to survive a short week, off of a big win in Miami.
Cam Newton is going to be a lot to contain, but Greg Hardy will be out to prove himself against his former team. The Cowboys have historically had a tough little window around this time of year and I think that they’ll drop this game. A game that Most will attribute to the short week syndrome.
Panthers take this one 27-17.
Week 13: At Redskins - December 7th @ 7:30pm CST on ESPN
DUN DUN DUN DUN! Monday. Night. FOOTBALL.
It’s always exciting to get under the Monday Night anthem and play some pigskin. As much as I can’t stand the Redskins, there is nothing like a prime time game there; it’s got that classic NFC East vibe to it and always makes for a great game.
Who knows what the status will be with their quarterback situation at the time? Will it be RGIII? Kirk Cousins? Colt McCoy? Or will they actually make a move for Marcus Mariota?
Last time we met…
The Cowboys traveled to FedEx Field (Who am I kidding, it’ll always be RFK) for the 2014 regular season finale. It was an exciting game that saw two Cowboys records broken.
- DeMarco Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s record for most yards rushed for in a single season and,
- Dez Bryant broke Terrell Owens’ record for most touchdown receptions in a single season.
The 44-17 victory marked the Cowboys 12th win of the regular season and their 8th on the road, giving them a perfect road record for 2014.
The Cowboys will have a nice little mini bye after Thanksgiving that will give them 11 full days of rest before they have to lace them up again.
They have shown that they have the ability to win on the road, and Washington has shown that they will always implode. The Cowboys will start December off on the right foot and get a nice win, 38-16.
Week 14: At Packers - December 13th @ 3:25pm CST on Fox
Lambeau Field. It is the holy grail of professional football.
This game has everything you could possibly want. Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Mike McCarthy, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Garrett; and a rematch of one of the more exciting playoff games in recent memory.
This will challenge the record books as one of the most viewed games in history as its only competition for the day is a Broncos/Raiders matchup. Troy and Buck will be on the call and they’ll be talking about one thing all week… Dez Bryant’s catch (uh huh, I said catch).
Last time we met…
The Cowboys made the trek to the Frozen Tundra for last year’s Divisional Round of the Playoffs. While many gave the Packers a free pass to the NFC Championship game, the Cowboys would have none of it.
They withstood the injured Aaron Rodgers and were in line to put the game away before DeMarco Murray fumbled at the Cowboys 41 yard line early in the third quarter. The battle went back and forth and eventually saw the Packers take a 26-21 lead. Tony Romo mounted a comeback drive and on 4th and 2 from the Green Bay 32, launched a deep pass to the direction of Dez Bryant.
You all know what happened. An atrocious rule took precedence over what would have been one of the greater catches in NFL history, and the Packers booked their ticket to Seattle.
Dez Bryant will go off. I’m talking 200+ yards. He is going to be out to make a statement in this game. Yes, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will score some points; but Dez and the Cowboys are going to approach this game the way they approached Seattle in 2014.
It’s theirs and they’re going to take it in what will be one of the greater games of the 2015 NFL season, 45-41.
Week 15: Jets - December 19th @ 7:25pm CST on NFL Network
The Rex Ryan-less J-E-T-S will make their way to AT&T Stadium in one of the two Saturday night games of the 2015 season. These games are always so much fun as college football has reached a standstill so Saturdays are available for our perusal.
The Jets have a newly rebuffed secondary (Revis and Cromartie back for round two) that will be a big talk all week, but the Cowboys' win over Green Bay will be the bigger story as the Cowboys begin their run at securing a first round bye.
Last time we met…
These two teams last squared off on the ten-year anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history, September 11th, 2011.
The Cowboys kicked off the Sunday Night Football game to begin the 2011 season in New York and the Ryan brothers (Rex and Rob) got a whole bunch of love. It was a really unorganized game for the Cowboys that saw some fourth quarter mistakes result in a 27-24 Jets win.
The Cowboys will have begun to catch fire by this point in the season. They will have the division and a first round bye well in sight and look to take advantage of a Jets team that has been fairly weak for the last few years.
It’ll be great to get this win locked up on a Saturday night and enjoy the Christmas decorations as Dem Boyz cruise to an easy 41-17 victory.
Week 16: At Bills - December 27th @ 12:00pm CST on Fox
You thought you dodged Rex Ryan when we played the Jets, didn’t you? Rex is going to talk his way all the way up to the sidelines all week-long before this matchup.
The Cowboys will have to face LeSean McCoy for the last time for four years (barring ANOTHER Cowboys and Bills Super Bowl in that time span) and all of Buffalo’s other offseason acquisitions: Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Matt Cassel.
Last time we met…
The Cowboys and Bills squared off on November 13th, 2011 in a game that was never close. The Cowboys scored quick and early and often riding Laurent Robinson (two touchdowns that day) to an easy 44-7 win.
One of the more notable moments was when Bills receiver David Nelson caught a touchdown and handed the ball to his girlfriend Kelsi Reich… who was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader! The story was everywhere and was a lot of fun.
The Cowboys last traveled to Orchard Park for a Monday Night game in early October of 2007. It was one of Tony Romo’s more memorable performances as he threw five interceptions and fumbled once… and still led the Cowboys to a 25-24 win.
There will most likely be some type of clinch scenario at this point (assuming I’m a prophet and everything that I’ve said comes true). The Cowboys will likely be able to clinch the division and/or a first round bye with this victory.
They’ll come out strong, but so will the Bills. Rex will absolutely get his team up to play America’s Team and The Ralph is an underrated place to play. I think it’ll be close and low scoring, but the Cowboys will pull it off 20-13.
Week 17: Redskins - January 3rd @ 12:00pm CST on Fox
Happy New Year! Hopefully you got Cowboys gear for Christmas and are excited to see us finish the regular season against Dan Snyder and his band of misfits.
In all likelihood this game will (hopefully) be meaningless, as we have secured enough to make us feel comfortable heading into the playoffs. The Cowboys and Redskins matchups are never boring, though, so this will surely be exciting… and not just because it’s your fantasy football Super Bowl.
Last time we met…
The last time that Washington visited AT&T Stadium is hard to truly evaluate. Tony Romo was infamously knocked out of the game, and later returned, while Brandon Weeden was unable to do much and we got a very scary look at what life without Romo looks like.
The Cowboys lost in overtime 20-17 to a Colt McCoy led team and had to deal with a very long week of sadness and unknown.
Coach Garrett showed last season in Washington that he will play his guys no matter what we’ve secured. I think that we’ll play the guys for a bit, but the Redskins will have too much pride on the line and win a low scoring affair 20-16, while we smile and get ready for the playoffs.
Obviously there is a lot yet to be determined about the 2015 NFL season. The NFL Draft is quickly approaching and that will drastically influence the composition of all of these teams.
Unfortunately, injuries will happen. As will the most improbable and unforeseen things… this is the NFL, right? The important thing is that the NFL Schedule is here, which can only mean one thing: the 2015 NFL Season is quickly approaching and trying to get to us as fast as it can!
Do Or Die: Chidobe Awuzie Must Improve Sunday, Or Cowboys Season Could End
Coming into the season there was a lot of hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks. With Byron Jones moving from safety full time, and now second year player Chidobe Awuzie playing opposite Jones after a promising rookie season, there was a lot for Cowboys fans to be excited about.
Through the first 10 weeks of the year, though, only one of those two has maintained fans' excitement. While Byron Jones has been arguably the best cornerback in all of football, Chidobe Awuzie has been damn-near an automatic completion when thrown at.
Awuzie has a -5.8 coverage rating this season, 65th among cornerbacks in the NFL. Coverage rating is a metric which factors in how often a cornerback is targeted as well as how many passes they've defensed per target. Quarterbacks also have a 116.6 passer rating when targeting Awuzie, compared to just 64.5 when targeting Byron Jones. For comparisons sake, Jones' coverage rating is a +45! So you can see why "cornerback opposite of Jones" is becoming a need for the Cowboys.
What's perplexing about Awuzie's season, though, is that he is only giving up an average 0.95 yards of separation, 27th in the league (courtesy of playerprofiler.com). So while Awuzie is playing relatively sticky coverage, he's still being targeted often, and he's still allowing completions way too often.
This week, Chidobe Awuzie will be tested once again, this time by the dynamic passing game of the Atlanta Falcons. The match-up many fans are focusing on is that between Byron Jones and Julio Jones, but how Awuzie does against Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu may play a bigger factor in the result.
Both Ridley and Sanu are solid supporting receivers, and considering how much attention the defense typically has to pay to Julio Jones, they tend to get man coverage often. This allows for a precise route runner like Ridley to take advantage of opportunities, and come away with the types of big plays we've seen from him this year.
When matched up with either of these weapons, Awuzie will need to continue to stay close, but play and defense the ball better. He must continue to make it hard on these receivers and force them into contested catches, but hopefully he can improve on his play when the ball gets to the catch point.
Sunday will be another big test for the Cowboys' young defense. And as well as they have played most weeks, this game has the potential to be a season ender if certain guys do not step up. One of those guys who will certainly play a key role in influencing the result in Chidobe Awuzie.
Cowboys Defense Faces Tough Matchup vs Falcons Passing Attack
When you're a 4-5 team in the NFL with preseason expectations of making the playoffs, the last half of the season has a lot of of must-win games. This week is no different. The Dallas Cowboys face another 4-5 team in the Atlanta Falcons who is also looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Both teams are still in the hunt, but have slightly different paths to get there. The Dallas Cowboys would probably have to win the NFC East to make the playoffs with the Falcons only real chance coming via the wild card. The New Orleans Saints look to be the kings of the NFC South this season.
In order to stay in the hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need a huge defensive effort against a fierce Atlanta Falcons passing game. Through the first nine games, the Cowboys have provided reason for optimism that they can slow down Matt Ryan and company, but they've also had some porous efforts this season.
The front seven of the defense has played pretty well through the first nine games of the season and Byron Jones has been one of the best corner backs in the league. They've had problems on the left sde of the defense with Chidobe Awuzie and with the safeties.
The Cowboys will face a really difficult challenge as they travel to face the Atlanta Falcons passing game led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Matt Ryan is in the top five in most passing categories including yards, touchdowns, passer rating, completion percentage, and leads the league in passing yards per game. In yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, and air yards per attempt, Matt Ryan is sixth in the NFL.
As you can see from the chart above provided by Next Gen Stats and NFL.com, Matt Ryan has been average to better than average throwing to every area of the field this season. Particularly troubling is what he's doing when he's throwing to his right, which happens to be the side of the field occupied by Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie is allowing a passer rating of 129.7 this season, which is the 15th worst number in the NFL among corners who have played a minimum of 92 coverage snaps.
What's potentially more troubling than how efficient Matt Ryan's been throwing to Awuzie's side of the field is the fact that Julio Jones will play all over the formation and can beat you in every area of the field.
The chances are high that we'll see Awuzie lined up against Julio Jones on several occasions on Sunday. Pray for Chido, y'all.
Jones has only scored two touchdowns this year, but through nine games, he's already over 1,000 yards receiving, which is leading the NFL. Julio is fourth in the NFL in receptions and is averaging more than 15 yards per catch. He's third in the NFL in yards per route run at 2.99 sitting behind only Michael Thomas and Albert Wilson among players with at least 20 targets on the season.
From Jones' chart against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week six, you can see that they lined him up all over the formation and they ran him on a large variety of routes to a large variety of depths. Julio Jones is one of the best route runners in the NFL, which is scary considering he provides huge size and athleticism to go with it.
As good as he's been this season, the secondary receivers for the Falcons -- Calvin Ridley, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper -- have also played well. Each of them has more than 400 yards receiving on the season. To put that in perspective, Cole Beasley leads the Dallas Cowboys in receiving yards at 403. Each of the Falcons' top four targets have more receiving yards than Beasley does.
Not sure if that speaks of how good the Falcons passing game has been or how bad the Cowboys passing game has been.
The Cowboys will be facing the player that fans wanted the team to select instead of Leighton Vander Esch at 19th overall; Calvin Ridley. Ridley's been excellent this season with 500 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. He's averaging 13.2 yards per reception. Ridley's second on the Falcons in receptions for first downs and Matt Ryan has a passer rating of 138.9 when targeting Ridley.
Austin Hooper doesn't get the same publicity that Jones and Ridley do, but he's been effective this season as well. Hooper is second on the Falcons in receptions with 46, which is the fourth most among tight ends in the NFL. Hooper will test Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle of the field as well as Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath down the seem.
Mohammed Sanu will be the matchup to watch for Anthony Brown in the slot. Though Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones will run routes from there on occasion, Sanu is the primary slot receiver. He ranks 22nd in the NFL in receptions and yards from the slot. Of his 45 targets, 33 have come while in the slot and 25 of his 34 receptions. When Matt Ryan throws Sanu's way, he's got a passer rating of 125.8.
And if all that wasn't bad enough, you have the Dallas Cowboys defense as one of the worst in the NFL at getting off the field on third down. The Atlanta Falcons are second in the NFL at getting off the field on third down.
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The Dallas Cowboys are likely going to give up some long drives to the Falcons, and that's ok. What they don't want to do is give up big plays to the Falcons passing attack. The Cowboys rank sixth in the NFL in red zone defense allowing teams to score on only 48.1% of their trips inside the 20 yard line. The Falcons are seventh in the league at scoring in the red zone, but have had their issues scoring touchdowns when getting inside the 20. If the Cowboys can hold them to three instead of seven, I'll count it as a successful drive for the defense.
The Dallas Cowboys defense is playing really well this season and it ranks in the top 10 in most team defensive categories. However, if they have a weakness it's been in their pass defense, primarily Awuzie and the safeties. If they want to win this game and continue to get themselves back into the playoff picture, they're going to need better performances from their defensive backs not named Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, and to a lesser extent Xavier Woods.
Facing the Atlanta Falcons prolific passing attack is a huge test for this defense and one that could define the rest of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season.
Cowboys’ Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups
With their seasons hanging in the balance, the Dallas Cowboys (4-5) and the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) know all too well the importance of this matchup. The Cowboys however might have a little extra incentive to win this game, revenge. The Falcons absolutely throttled them in 2017, but Dallas is looking to turn the tables on them this year.
Playing in hostile territory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn't the ideal place to secure a victory, but I believe the Dallas Cowboys have a excellent shot at coming out of this contest with a "W". This time around the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith at their disposal and they should pay huge dividends. Having these two players in the lineup will certainly factor into the outcome of the game, but there are other matchups worth keeping an eye on as well.
Here are the three matchups I believe will decide the outcome of this game:
Amari Cooper vs. Falcons' Secondary
If the Atlanta Falcons secondary continues to play the way they've played for the majority of the 2018 season, the Dallas Cowboys should be able to find quite a bit of success in the passing game. That's why I'm expecting Quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers to have a big game, especially Amari Cooper.
The Falcons are surprisingly giving up 294.4 passing yards a game, which happens to be third worst in the NFL. But what's more surprising is they are also the worst at defending their opponents best receiver, ranking 30th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). That's why I think Amari Cooper could end up having his best game to date in a Cowboys uniform.
Cooper's ability to threaten an opponent's defense all over the field has already made the Cowboys offense better and that should continue to improve as his bond with Prescott develops. He has already become one of the most highly targeted WRs in the NFL since coming to Dallas and that is not only helping improve their passing game, but the running game as well.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Falcons' Run Defense
As much as I'm excited about the damage Amari Cooper could do to the Falcons secondary, I'm even more excited about how dominate Ezekiel Elliott can be against Atlanta's defensive front. A lot of that has to do with the way both of these teams played in these areas a week ago, and it's a matchup that heavily favors the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are coming off their best rushing attack of the 2018 season. The offensive line completely manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles top ranked run defense last week, allowing Zeke to rush for 150+ yards. We could see a repeat performance, especially with the way the Falcons failed to stop the run last week against the Cleveland Browns.
Rookie Running Back Nick Chubb had a career day against the Falcons a week ago, amassing 176 yards and a touchdown on the ground and another 33 yards and a touchdown through the air. If that's an indication of what we can expect from Atlanta's run defense, Zeke should have a huge game. Controlling the clock with the running game would more than likely secure a much-needed victory.
Cowboys' Defense vs. Falcons' 3rd-down Offense
As good as a Dallas Cowboys defense has been this season, they have really struggled to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. In fact, they're currently the fourth worst third-down defense in the league, allowing offenses to convert a first down 44.07% of the time. That's not good, especially if you factor in that the Falcons convert 51.26% of their third downs, ranking second in the NFL.
The matchup between the Cowboys defense and the Falcons third-down offense could end up being the most important. Dallas absolutely have to find a way to get Matt Ryan and his offense off the field and the ball back in the hands of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They can't allow Atlanta to get out to an early lead, because they're not a team who's built to come from behind.
Hopefully the Cowboys can capitalize on the Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott match ups (previously mentioned), that way they're play on third-down becomes less of a factor. But if it ends up being a close game, they will without a doubt have to improve their third-down defensive efficiency.
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