Atlanta Falcons most intriguing matchups of 2015 – #3


Today, we move on in our “Falcons 50” series, looking at the most intriguing matchups the Atlanta Falcons will face this season. What is at No. 3?

You can find the full list of “Falcons 50″ posts here.

The “Falcons 50” countdown has entered single digits. That means football is coming. What are the most intriguing matchups of the season that the Falcons will face? Here is number three.

No. 3 – Defensive line vs Cowboys offensive line

To beat the Dallas Cowboys, you best find a way to break through the offensive line, which is the best the NFL has to offer. The Cowboys’ line played a major role in the success of DeMarco Murray last year, who rushed 392 times for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. This helped propel Tony Romo to arguably his best season, finishing with his highest career passer rating of 113.2.

Murray has joined the arch-rival Eagles, and the running back position has been thrust into the spotlight for the Cowboys this offseason. What makes a dominant rushing attack – an unbreakable offensive line, an elite running back or both? Dallas is hoping it’s the former, as there have been no major additions to the ground game. Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle, it’s over to you.

But what can’t be denied is that the Cowboys line is one of the, if not the best in football right now. Pro Football Focus ranks all five starters along the line in the top-20 of their respective positions, with three of them finishing in the top-10. Guards Zack Martin (6th) and Ronald Leary (17th) are among the best in the league, as are tackles Tyron Smith (6th) and Doug Free (20th) and center Travis Frederick (2nd).

The Falcons need to find a way to break through the line, stuff the run and disrupt Romo. Simple, right? Well, this one is going to be fun to watch. If the 2014 Atlanta Falcons took on the challenge, forget about it. The pass rush was non-existent. But this year it could be different.

First round pick Vic Beasley bursts off the snap so quickly, he can force linemen onto the back foot. He dominated three-time Pro Bowler D’Brickashaw Ferguson in a preseason game with the New York Jets. A bull rush on Ferguson drove him into Ryan Fitzpatrick which allowed Adrian Clayborn to make the sack. The combination of Beasley and Clayborn could be dominant this year.

We will see exactly what the new-look pass rush under Dan Quinn is made of. Can they stop either McFadden, Dunbar or Randle—because frankly nobody knows with any certainty who will be the Cowboys’ starting running back—and put Romo under pressure?

This is one of the toughest positional matchups the Falcons will face all year, and that’s what makes it so intriguing. If Atlanta wins the battle up front, they win the game.

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