Week 10 will feature a matchup of two teams that were at the top of the NFC last season, the Dallas Cowboys (5-3) and the Atlanta Falcons (4-4), and the two teams seem to be trending in different directions.
The Dallas Cowboys, just a few weeks ago had everyone wondering if they were a legit Super Bowl contender after dropping to 2-3. Since dropping back to back games to the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers, they've won three straight and made believers out of Cowboys Nation and national observers.
The Atlanta Falcons on the other hand started the season hot going 3-1 in their first four. Since then, they've dropped three of their last four to the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and Carolina Panthers. Their lone win was a five point win vs the New York Jets in a game they were trailing at half time.
This is a huge game in the NFC playoff race. A Dallas Cowboys win will position them well for a wild card spot while keeping them in sight of NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles. A Falcons win allows them to stay above .500 and keep a shot at one of the two NFC wild cards.
The Dallas Cowboys hold a 16-10 lead in the all-time series with their last victory being a 37-21 blow out win in 2009.
By the Numbers
The Atlanta Falcons turnover differential, which is 25th in the NFL. Matt Ryan has been intercepted seven times in eight games, good for sixth most among quarterbacks who have played eight games or less.
Jason Garrett has zero wins over the Atlanta Falcons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. One of the two losses to the Falcons coming in the Tony Romo less 2015, losing by 11. In 2012 they lost by six in a game where Romo threw for over 300 yards, but could only engineer one touchdown drive.
David Irving is second on the team in sacks (6), tackles by a defensive lineman (10), and passes defended (4) in only four games in 2017.
The yards per carry number on nine carries for Rod Smith if you take away his season long rush of 45 yards.
Ezekiel Elliott is third in the NFL amongst running backs in yards from scrimmage. One of the players that is ahead of him, Kareem Hunt has played nine games. The other player, Todd Gurley picked up a ton of his yardage (215 total yards) during Sean Lee's absence in week four.
His suspension is a significant loss.
Alfred Morris' yards per carry on 13 carries when you take away his season long run of 76 yards.
Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have combined to average 4.375 receptions per game on an average of six targets per game.
Seventh in the NFL is where Matt Ryan sits in passing yards. He also ranks ninth in completion percentage but is only 14th in passer rating at 92.8.
Dak Prescott's ranking with a 97.9 passer rating. That's ahead of notable quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Cam Newton, and Joe Flacco.
The amount of times that Matt Ryan has been sacked, which is good for ninth in the NFL among players who have played at least eight games. For perspective, the leader in this category is Drew Brees who has only been sacked eight times.
The Atlanta Falcons leading receiver is averaging 15.3 yards per reception. His 658 yards is nearly double that of the second leading receiver for the Falcons and ranks fourth in the NFL. Julio Jones has also been targeted 24 more times than Mohammed Sanu, who is second in targets.
Dak Prescott's 16 passing touchdowns are tied for fifth in the NFL with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Prescott's 20 total touchdowns rank him third in the NFL behind Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson.
The difference in points per game when Sean Lee is out of the lineup (35) and when Sean Lee is in the lineup (18). That even includes the 42 points they allowed vs the Denver Broncos in week two. Take that 42 point aberration away and the PPG average drops to 13.2 points per game.
DeMarcus Lawrence's 16 game sack pace, which has begun to come back down to earth after his tremendous start. At this pace, he'd be 1.5 sacks shy of tying Michael Strahan's single season sack record.
At roughly 22 points per game allowed, the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys are 14th and 15th in the NFL in points allowed per game.
Dallas' total sacks is third in the NFL behind the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons have only registered 18 sacks this season, which ranks 18th in the league.
This should be a good matchup for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
With only two interceptions on the season, the Atlanta Falcons sit second to last in the National Football League, only to the Oakland Raiders who have yet to intercept a pass this season.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't much better, however, having only intercepted four passes, tying for 26th in the NFL with Carolina.
With only six turnovers forced in eight games, the Atlanta Falcons are tied for last in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Falcons also tie for last in turnovers/drive, while the Dallas Cowboys are 18th in the NFL in the same category.
The rate at which the Atlanta Falcons allow an opponent to score a touchdown or a field goal per drive. At 40.2% the Falcons represent the fifth worst rate in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys have the ninth worst number at 37.2%.
Dez Bryant's 75 targets are 27 more than Jason Witten. Dez has been the fifth most targeted player in the NFL this season and is on pace for 150 targets.
Among players with more than 70 targets, only Amari Cooper and Alshon Jeffrey have a worse catch percentage than Dez's 50.7%. Again, of players with more than 70 targets, only slot receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Christian McCaffrey have fewer yards than Dez's 435 on the season.
It's clear that Dak works to get Dez involved regularly. The two just need to figure out a way to be more efficient.
The amount of rushing yards allowed per game when Sean Lee is playing. Compare that to the 164 yards rushing per game they allowed to the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers.
Lead back Devonta Freeman averages 64 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards per game. His 81 yards from scrimmage per game is second on the team to Julio Jones' 82 yards from scrimmage per game.
The difference in rushing yards per game with Jonathan Cooper (183.6) instead of Chaz Green (89.33) starting at left guard.
Weeks 1-3 Chaz starting at LG. Cowboys avg 89.33 yards rushing/game. Five games since w/ Cooper at LG, avg 183.6 rushing/g #CowboysNation
The amount of rushing yards that the Atlanta Falcons running backs have combined for through eight games. Coincidentally, they've also allowed 114.5 rushing yards to opponents.
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As always be on the look out for the Inside The Star Staff Picks tomorrow and of course...
Let's Go Cowboys!!!
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.
Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!
Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion
Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.
Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.
What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.
Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.
The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.
Tight Ends Rise
The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.
A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.
Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause
Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.
The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.
Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity
Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.
In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.
This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."
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