There will be a lot made of the performance by the left side of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line–namely Chaz Green–and rightfully so. Green and left guard Jonathan Cooper were not good. To this fan, however, the game was lost when Sean Lee went out with a hamstring injury late in the first quarter.
Sure one player does not a defense make, but lets look at the numbers before they played the Atlanta Falcons, with Sean Lee and without Sean Lee.
With Sean Lee for six games, the Dallas Cowboys defense only allowed 18 points per game, 80.33 rushing yards per game, and went 5-1.
I covered it some in this game's By the Numbers, but let me refresh your memory.
Without Sean Lee for two games, against the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers, albeit two really good offensive teams, the Dallas Cowboys defense allowed 35 points per game, 164 yards rushing per game, and went 0-2.
Remember, those numbers include the awful performance by the Dallas Cowboys in their week two loss to the now awful looking Denver Broncos.
But Let's Just Look at Cowboys @ Falcons Now
Sean Lee went out of the game toward the end of the first quarter with his hamstring injury on a play that looked really innocuous.
In the first quarter, the Atlanta Falcons rushed five times for negative three yards.
You read that right, negative three yards!!!
The Falcons first drive gained them three yards before Anthony Brown's coverage forced the ball in the air and Xavier Woods intercepted it. On the second drive, Dallas was making Atlanta work for it, getting them to third downs twice and conceding the first before finally making a stop and holding them to a 50 yard field goal, which was made by Matt Bryant.
The game took a different turn after that three-point scoring drive.
From the second quarter on, the Atlanta Falcons ran for 129 yards on 35 carries, led by Tevin Coleman's 20 carries for 83 yards. That 3.68 yards per carry isn't great, but it was certainly effective. The difference being they were able to make big gains on the ground.
Dallas was able to hold the Falcons to a field goal in the first quarter and gave up another 24 over the final three quarters.
When Dallas was able to get quick penetration into the backfield, whether a defensive lineman or a blitzing player, they were able to drop Atlanta's ball carriers for losses. If the defensive line got blocked at the point of attack, the Falcons were able to make big gains.
From the second quarter on, there were six runs that went for negative yardage. In that same time frame, there were five runs that went for 10 or more yards.
The most important thing the Falcons run game was able to do was open up the play-action pass that killed the Dallas Cowboys in the second half. Once Atlanta started hitting some big plays in the run game, the Cowboys couldn't keep up as they tried to pay extra attention to stopping the run.
Despite Atlanta's struggles this season, that was still a good offense, and they took advantage of a huge personnel weakness on Sunday afternoon.
The absence of Sean Lee.
If the Dallas Cowboys want to get back on the winning side of the ledger in week 11 at the Philadelphia Eagles, Sean Lee better be on the field.