Despite being familiar with the offense, I do not foresee Matt Cassel being the backup to Brandon Weeden this week.
Ronald Leary practicing this week is an indication that he will indeed return to Left Guard. Mackenzy Bernadeau did not play well last week – La'el Collins outperformed him – making the decision to sit Bernadeau easy.
If the Cowboys do indeed go this route, Zack Martin would be the emergency Center if anything were to happen to Travis Frederick. At this point, I am much more comfortable with Collins in the lineup if Leary is unable to play.
Cowboys Offense vs Atlanta Defense
I will be completely honest, I am not blown away by the Atlanta Falcons on defense. Yes, the Cowboys offense needs Brandon Weeden to make enough plays to keep Atlanta off the line of scrimmage. If Weeden is able to do that, I don't feel their defense will be able to effectively stop the run.
If Ronald Leary and James Hanna are healthy, the running game will have the opportunity to get going. The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants ran the ball for a combined 4.1 yards per carry through two games against Atlanta. After studying the Eagles and Giants – especially after watching them against the Cowboys defense – neither team is currently good at running the ball.
This should be the week that Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden show patience, as the holes will develop, giving both the opportunity to wear down the Falcons defense. I will reiterate; while the Falcons have not given up a lot of rushing yards, they are far from a good rushing defense.
A lot has been made of the Falcons first round draft pick, Vic Beasley. I'm not sure why; his quality performance last week largely came against Ereck Flowers.
At best, Flowers is an average Pass Blocking Left Tackle, simply not having the feet to stop the NFL's best pass rushers. Beasley was virtually quiet against Jason Peters of the Eagles, which makes me believe there is little worry that Tyron Smith will struggle against him.
Atlanta's best opportunity to get Beasley going is to have him rush on the left side against Free, which I could see the Falcons doing on several occasions throughout the game. Personally, I would run at Beasley all game, especially if Leary is in the starting lineup.
The Cowboys receivers will have to win their matchups against the Falcons Secondary.
Cole Beasley should have a favorable match up against Phillip Adams, and Jason Witten should have room to operate between the hash marks. Lance Dunbar should be able to get into some favorable matchups as well.
Be on the lookout for a deep ball in the direction of Brice Butler. He has the speed to stretch the defense vertically and is the Cowboys' best deep-threat. Most of all, Terrance Williams will have to help Brandon Weeden. If he sees a lot of single coverage, he needs to defeat his man and become a reliable outlet for Weeden.
Hopefully, we do not see Weeden live by the check-down. He has to remain confident in routes developing downfield. The Falcons secondary is not one that will be able to blanket the Cowboys skill players.
Key Match Up: Brandon Weeden vs Falcons Secondary
I strongly believe the Offensive Line will be able to provide Brandon Weeden with enough time to press the ball down the field. The key question being…
Will he be able to?
He has shown the ability, but his play in Cleveland and last year against Arizona does leave some doubts.
Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn's defenses are known for their ability to get pressure, but I feel he will need to blitz in order to get home against the Cowboys. This is when Weeden needs to hurt the Falcons. If he is able to do that, the Cowboys will keep the Falcons on their heels the entire game.
Weeden cannot afford to stare down receivers and allow the Falcons Secondary to break on the ball – he will have to be safe but not conservative – if he is intelligent with his reads the Secondary will break down, giving him the opportunity to make the passing game an effective weapon.
The success of the offense on Sunday rests in the hands of Brandon Weeden.
Cowboys Defense vs Falcons Offense
The Falcons offense is running the ball for 2.8 yards per carry and that was before their starting Running Back Tevin Coleman popped up on the injury report this week. Quinn subtly challenged Coleman to play through his cracked ribs but in all likelihood, Coleman will not play on Sunday. The Cowboys have been simply dominant against the run, nothing the Falcons have shown lead me to believe this will change on Sunday.
If the Falcons become one dimensional, it will be on the Cowboys to deal with Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Leonard Hankerson isn't much of a worry in my mind. Tyler Patmon has shown he is more than capable of shutting down a slot receiver. Also, Byron Jones has shown he can blanket bigger threats at Tight End than Jacob Tamme, so that should also be a matchup in the defense's favor.
Rod Marinelli will adjust his coverages to not allow the Falcons to hit Jones on bubble screens all game. The Falcons have shown they have a hot-read available if a Corner Back is giving Jones a cushion of 7 yards are more. Marinelli is wise to this and will mix his coverages on Jones to prevent him changing the tide of this game.
Whoever is not covering Jones will have to make sure they play with sound technique against White, as the Falcons will look to get him the ball. Last week was the first time he did not catch a pass since 2006. He gave the correct media response to reporters, though one has to believe he let his Quarterback and Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan know about it.
Matt Ryan will more than likely give the Cowboys secondary several opportunities to make plays on the ball. Brandon Carr and Tyler Patmon have both failed to capitalize on their chances to Intercept the ball thus far, but this is a game where the defense needs to force some turnovers.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Falcons Offensive Line
The Falcons are getting the ball out of Ryan's hand quickly, yet that doesn't mean it's impossible to get pressure on him. Tyrone Crawford, Jeremy Mincey, and DeMarcus Lawrence will all have to put pressure on Ryan throughout the game.
If the Defensive Line disrupts Ryan the Secondary will have a great opportunity to limit Jones and the Falcons' passing attack.
The Falcons have shown to be a good pass-blocking team early this season; I want to see how that holds up if Ryan's first read is not available to him and he is forced to hold the ball longer.
I believe we will see Sean Lee blitz several times during the game, just to give the Falcons a different look. Anything to disrupt Matt Ryan's rhythm will be welcomed, although I believe the gameplan will be to get pressure by rushing four for most of the game.
Slight Advantage Falcons
Special Teams Match Up
Chris Jones, Dan Bailey, Danny McCray, Kyle Wilber, Jeff Heath, and the rest of the Special Teams unit have been lights-out through two games.
While there has not been a big punt return, the team seems to like Beasley as their returner. Devin Hester looks to be out again this week, taking away a huge Special Teams threat.
Atlanta has given up an average of 13 yards per punt return, compared to only 5.8 per return for Dallas. There is an opportunity for a big return against the Falcons and Rich Bisaccia will have the unit ready to capitalize on this opportunity.
Strong Advantage Cowboys
I have a feeling that Brandon Weeden will play well enough for the Cowboys to win.
The defense is playing extremely well, the team has remained confident despite injuries, and the Falcons are not an overwhelming matchup. Weeden and the offense will have plenty of opportunities to make plays, which they will indeed make enough to keep the Atlanta defense on the field.
This will be the best running game for the Cowboys this season. The Falcons look extremely vulnerable with their run defense, while their pass defense has also been far from stellar.
Julio Jones will be limited, forcing the Falcons offense to have issues finishing drives and staying on the field. They haven't shown the ability to run, which will allow the Cowboys to almost entirely focus on shutting down the air attack.
I expect Matt Ryan to have at least one Interception, while Weeden limits his mistakes and is a reason that the Cowboys win this game.
The Way Of Smooth
Brandon Weeden has the opportunity to prove all of his detractors wrong. He doesn't even have to play like a top-tier Quarterback; he just has to perform like he his competent. Matt Cassel won't stay on the bench for many games if Weeden shows he cannot handle the pressure.
This is also an opportunity to make himself a good deal of money – he is in a contract year – it's in his best interest to play well during Tony Romo's absence. If he performs poorly, it is not farfetched to believe his career may be over.
Every fan of the Dallas Cowboys should hope Weeden performs well, keeping the Cowboys in playoff contention until Romo is able to return. A win this week would be huge, allowing the Cowboys to remain two games up in the NFC East.