It’s no secret the 3-4 Dallas Cowboys have a tall task ahead of them when visiting the unblemished 7-0 Falcons this Sunday night. They must bounce back in an aggressive and sudden manner after a painful loss to the hated Giants at home. Also the game is a primetime night game which means the energy of the Atlanta players and their home crowd should be at the highest level.
The emotions and effort of this Cowboys squad must be at an immediate and peak level from start to finish to overcome these intense circumstances. Along with that, there are four crucial areas the Cowboys must excel in to leave Atlanta with a victory.
1) PLAY EVEN OR BETTER FOOTBALL EARLY
In a game against a very talented, complete team such as the hosting Falcons, Dallas can absolutely not afford to fall behind early. Altering the Dallas playbook before it ever really gets started is a death sentence in this game. Dallas must be able to show balance and keep the defense honest. The best way to do that is avoid an early hole.
For example, in all three of the Cowboys victories Dallas played excellent defense in the first quarter and never trailed their opponent once the quarter came to a close. In those three wins, Dallas scored a total of 7 points and held the opponents to a total of 7 points.
In both the first game with the Giants and also the Carolina game, the Cowboys defense did not allow any points. Dallas did not score any points either, yet this still achieved the key of playing even football and keeping the playbook wide open.
Against Tampa Bay, both teams scored a touchdown in the first frame, yet the Cowboys stayed at an even scoring level. Of course leading would be best, but by simply staying even Dallas eventually won all three games.
Conversely, the combined first quarter scores in the team’s four losses was an ugly 26-7 in favor of the opponents. Once again, chasing the Falcons from the jump will not get it done in this game. The Cowboys will need to stay balanced to achieve their goals. This balance will remain intact by staying even or leading on the scoreboard after the first 15 minutes.
2) COMMIT TO THE RUN AND STICK WITH IT
The only noticeable achilles heel of this Falcons team has been a spotty run defense. Atlanta fields the 26th ranked rush defense in the league, allowing a generous 136 yards per game and 8 total touchdowns. However, the most telling stat is the whopping 5.1 yards per carry they afford their opponents on the ground.
When analyzing a rush defense, yards per carry is certainly one of the most defining stats. A poor run defense may give up less yards per game than a better run defense, however this can be attributed to mostly playing ahead and teams abandoning the run against them early.
On the flip side, yards per carry gives a better idea how the opponents did when they were still employing the run. All that being said, Atlanta’s defense yields the second to last yards per carry average, with only Buffalo being more flimsy.
Dallas must attack this weakness and continue to keep it in the gameplan. Having success on the ground will subsequently create greater opportunities in the passing game as well. The most vulnerable point of attack seems to be through the middle of the defense.
Both defensive tackles have graded out negatively on the season. Jonathan Babineaux has a grade of -4.9 and Peria Jerry is slightly worse at -6.3. Compounding the weakness is middle linebacker Akeem Dent who is grading out at -5.2.
Ryan Clark, Nate Livings, and Mackenzy Bernadeau must elevate their run blocking to another level and expose this opening. The Falcons won’t provide any bigger vulnerability than a middle push.
With DeMarco Murray likely out again, I’d suggest turning Tanner and his aggressive running style loose up the middle. If success can be found with the middle run, the Cowboy’s play-action pass should become toxic to the Falcons.
3) LEAVE THE CORNERS ON AN ISLAND
Sounds crazy at first glance…suggesting that Rob Ryan ask Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to solely lock down the dynamic receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones. And yes it is a monumental task in nature, but it is a necessary one the Cowboys must conquer on a consistent basis.
The first reason for isolating the corners and asking so much of them is a direct result of the frequency and effectiveness in which Atlanta utilizes non-wide receivers in their passing attack.
Of the 182 pass completions for Matt Ryan, 89 have been caught by either a tight end or running back. That’s only 4 short of the total hauled in by all wide receivers.
Tight-end Tony Gonzales leads the team in receptions and will almost single-handedly undo the Cowboys defensive prowess if gone effectively unchecked. And speed back Jacquizz Rodgers will be a nightmare match-up out of the backfield if allowed too much space to operate.
Dallas cannot allow Atlanta to stretch the defense with their big receivers only to be sliced and diced on a consistent basis by the backs and tight-ends. It’s time for the prize pickups of the off-season to seriously earn their paychecks and lock down the corners.
4) MANAGE THE CLOCK LIKE A PROFESSIONAL HEAD COACH
Not a whole lot has to be said on this one. It’s time for Jason Garrett to practice smart game management. Get the offensive plays in at an acceptable pace where the QB is not racing to beat the last second of the playclock 90% of the game.
If there is a better aid to the defensive line’s jump I don’t know what it could be. With a few seconds left on the playclock, the entire defense knows exactly when the ball will be snapped. Why handcuff your offensive linemen like that when they are already up to their necks in holding their own?
Secondly, time-outs are a sacred treasure to be cherished and protected during the course of a game. Burning them in a senseless fashion because the defense can’t get lined up on time during the deciding minutes of the game is bush league (see Carolina game).
Yet when the game gets down to the final stages and maximizing time and yardage on offense is of the essence…use them. You can’t take them with you after the gun, and they aren’t only there as your safeguard to allow clock-burning before you call it (see Baltimore loss).
Garrett needs to finally show he can run the time strategy of big games like a true professional head coach, and not contribute to weakening his team’s chances of victory.