A week after facing the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Falcons will play host the Dallas Cowboys. Not only will this be a game against a marquee team with national recognition (the Dallas Cowboys) but the game will be on a Sunday night, on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. This game is critical for the Falcons as it is yet another opportunity for Atlanta to make a good impression on a national audience. Hopefully the Falcons can come up big and emerge from the game victorious. Here are some of the key matchups for the team in the week 9 contest.
Dallas DBs vs. Falcons receivers. The Falcons have a wealth of talent at both the wide receiver position as well as at tight end with Tony Gonzalez, and if this were a matchup of teams based on 2011 rosters, the Falcons would easily win this matchup. However, the Cowboys have recently augmented their defensive backfield through both free-agency as well as the draft. I think this is a night and day difference for the Cowboys. They added Brandon Carr from the Chiefs in free agency, and the top cover corner in the 2012 Draft in Morris Claiborne. I don’t have any doubt that Claiborne can lock down a #1 receiver from day one, or at the very minimum start on the outside. Carr is a very talented corner who has started from day one in the NFL, and constantly bats down passes. Carr may not be a great ball-hawking corner, but he certainly can disrupt the passing attack. Add to that tandem Mike Jenkins, a very fast but oft injured corner who will probably play nickel for the Cowboys, there is a lot of potential for breaking up passes by the Dallas DBs. Even the Dallas linebacking corps is very strong with Sean Lee, a good LB who defends the pass very well. Make no mistake, the Dallas pass coverage will likely be tough as nails in 2012, something it hasn’t been for a couple years. That is half of the equation for the Dallas defense to be successful. The other half is…
DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush. Sure the Cowboys will dial up pressure from other places with linebackers and other players bringing pressure, but aside from DeMarcus Ware, nobody gets to the quarterback as often. Maybe other players would if Ware didn’t get there so often or so quickly. Anthony Spencer has 6 sacks in 2011, but that paled in comparison to Ware’s 19.5 sacks. Heck, nobody in the NFL rushes the quarterback quite like Ware, aside from maybe Jared Allen of Minnesota. The Falcons offensive line must be extremely diligent in making sure Ware is blocked on every single play, no matter where he lines up. That also means that it isn’t just enough for a team to put one offensive lineman on Ware; the Falcons will need to put Tyson Clabo or Sam Baker (that’s a scary thought) AND a running back or tight end assigned to blocking Ware. A back or TE may only need to chip Ware to prevent him from getting to Ryan, but it is essential that the man assigned to block or chip DO block or chip Ware. If the don’t achieve that, it will be a very long day for the Atlanta offense.
Defensively, the Falcons will still have to content with a potent Cowboys offense. Dallas doesn’t have much in the way of receiver depth past Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, but that doesn’t make their team any less dangerous. Any of those players could make the Falcons defense pay dearly at any moment. The key to stopping this Dallas offense is to stop the running game, and to make their offense one dimensional. By stopping the run and forcing the Cowboys into 3rd and long situations, the Falcons can unleash their pass rush, and with their improved defensive secondary, will have the ability to prevent the pass. I’m not saying that the Falcons will do it, but that is the formula for stopping this offense in my mind.
These are the three greatest matchups for the Falcons to deal win. If the receivers can beat the DBs, the O-line can stop DeMarcus Ware, and the defense can prevent the run on 1st and 2nd down, I think the Falcons have a great chance at winning this ballgame. If not, they don’t.