The Dallas Cowboys (6-2) will host the Atlanta Falcons (4-4) at AT&T Stadium this Sunday. The Cowboys are coming off a disastrous and perplexing performance against the Denver Broncos in which they lost 30-16. The final score, however, is not indicative of the game.
The Cowboys didn't score until about five minutes left in the fourth quarter and added another garbage time score just as the game was ending. It was by far the Cowboys' worst performance of the season on both sides of the ball, and they look to bounce back this Sunday.
The national media is hammering home the thought that Vic Fangio laid a blueprint out for NFL teams to beat the Cowboys. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Broncos blitzed Dak Prescott on 14% off his dropbacks, the lowest rate he has faced this season. Fangio himself said, “we just have to do it the right way, call it the right way, which I'm in charge of so you know that's going to be taken care of.”
He also added “and I just felt ok about it. I want to say good about it. Teams just haven't played them the right way.”
It is a silly game to play, claiming to have figured out blueprints. People have expressed this during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era plus many other potent offenses only to see those teams continue their success in the ensuing weeks. The fact of the matter is the Cowboys played a sloppy game without their star Left Tackle, Tyron Smith.
Smith will almost certainly be questionable again for the game against the Falcons. Will the Cowboys trot out Terence Steele at left tackle again?
The last time the Cowboys played the Falcons with a back-up left tackle was in 2017 and it will forever be known as the “Chaz Green” game. Green gave up six sacks and the Cowboys' offense never got going.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have better options this time around.
Although Steele did not perform well last week against the Broncos in his left tackle debut, he is a better player than Green, and his play this season shows it. If Tyron is unable to go, it would be best for the Cowboys to move La'el Collins to the left tackle and return Steele to his rightful place on the right side.
This is still not ideal and a little bit concerning but it was clear last Sunday that Steele was not ready for the left side.
The Cowboys are playing a Falcons team that has allowed 17 passing touchdowns this season and has only generated three interceptions. They also have the seventh-worst passer rating against, 104.1. The Cowboys should have much more success through the air this weekend and regain their old form.
The Falcons also have the fewest sacks in the NFL this season with 11. This Falcons defense is not of the same caliber as the Broncos, who are allowing a league-worst 57% completion percentage compared to 67.7% for the Falcons. However, one player the Cowboys should be aware of on this Falcons defense is Cornerback AJ Terrell.
Terrell has played in seven games this season and has allowed just 13 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. That is phenomenal. It would behoove the Cowboys to attack fellow CB Fabian Moreau and rookie nickel Cornerbacks Avery Williams and Darren Hall.
The Falcons allow 4.4 yards per rush and this should be a get-right game for Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke has been held to 50 yards in his last two games and his inability to get going has impacted the Cowboys' offense. The Falcons allow first downs on 28.3% of rushes which is the fourth-worst in the league and have allowed 64 rushing first downs which are the seventh-worst in the NFL.
Look for the Cowboys' short-yardage running game to be more fruitful than it was last week against Denver.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys were gashed last week by the Broncos.
Fortunately, for Dallas, Atlanta has the second-worst rushing attack in the NFL, ahead of only the New York Jets. They average just 3.4 yards per attempt. The main weapon out of the backfield for the Falcons is Cordarrelle Patterson, and he is not an in-between-the-tackles runner as he has played wide receiver for most of his career.
Patterson is an explosive weapon catching the ball out of the backfield, having 38 grabs for 459 yards, although some of those catches have been with Patterson lined up as a receiver.
The Falcons will also be without Calvin Ridley, leaving Tajae Sharpe and Olamide Zaccheaus as their top two wideouts, but their top pass-catcher is the rookie Tight End, Kyle Pitts.
The Cowboys have allowed 466 yards receiving on 44 catches this year to opposing tight ends, so Pitts may be a struggle for the Cowboys. He lines up as a traditional tight end as well as a wide receiver, and it will be imperative for the Cowboys to slow down Pitts to keep the Falcons' offense in check.
Matt Ryan is old but is no slouch. Ryan gets the ball out quickly and has only been sacked 14 times on the year. He was just named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The Cowboys' secondary will need to play better than they did last week, where they allowed Teddy Bridgewater to complete almost 70% of his passes en route to a 107.6 passer rating.
Ryan is better than Bridgewater and if given time can dissect this secondary, even without Calvin Ridley.
The Cowboys should play Micah Parsons full time at edge rusher this Sunday as Randy Gregory will be out multiple weeks with a calf strain. Tarell Basham and Dorance Armstrong are going to need to step up as well.
Even more important will be the push the Cowboys generate up the middle, which is the best way to get Ryan off his game. See week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys' defense will most certainly have their hands full but coming off a dismal performance just a week ago, look for the Cowboys' offense to get back on track and show why they are one of the league's best offenses. The Falcons' inability to run the ball will hurt them in this one. This is an important game for Dallas as they aim to prove the egg they laid last week was an aberration.
Cowboys win this game 33-27.