What a difference seven days can make. This time last week Atlanta Falcons fans were looking to see what draft position the team could garner. Now, the Falcons are poised to push for a playoff spot midway through the season. It is insane that this is the same team that got mud-stomped by the Philadelphia Eagles in front of their friends, family, and fans in Week 1. But the Falcons are no longer the same team they were at the beginning of the season. Calvin Ridley might not be present, but Kyle Pitts is being used as a top-ten draft pick, and Matt Ryan looks like Matt Ryan again. Regardless, this team has shown some real promise, and, admittedly, has gotten some lucky breaks to get to their current position. But however they got to this point, the Atlanta Falcons Week 10 game against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday will be an important part of the Falcons playoff push. Here are the keys to the game.
Keys to Victory for Atlanta Falcons Week 10 Game
Keys to Victory
Contain the Dallas Offense
Just so that everyone is clear, the Dallas Cowboys will not score only sixteen points against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Dak Prescott is back in action and after a poor showing last week, he is going to be out for blood. And the Atlanta Falcons defense looks ripe for the pickings.
The secondary is not as bad as previously advertised as the Falcons defense is ranked eighth in total passing yards allowed this season. However, that is where the praise stops. They are 26th in Passing Rating against for the season and dead last in sacks allowed. Dak Prescott is not a quarterback that you want to sit in the pocket and dissect. Going into last Sunday, Prescott led the league with a 126.6 passer rating when given a clean pocket. Not the best news when Atlanta has the worst overall pressure percentage of 16.7%.
Also, remember when Chubba Hubbard, Ameer Abduallah, and Sam Darnold combined for 179 yards on the ground? And the Carolina Panthers slowed the game to a snail’s pace while holding the ball for 11 more minutes than the Falcons? The problem is the Cowboys running attack is bigger and faster than that of the Panthers.
Ezekiel Elliot, Tony Pollard, and Dak Prescott have helped the Cowboys achieve the eighth-best rushing attack. Not to mention they average 4.9 yards a carry, tied for fourth in the league with their NFC East rival, the Eagles. The Falcons will have to force the Cowboys to be one-dimensional.
Keep the Defense Guessing
This whole “Let Matt Cook” game plan that Atlanta has going on has worked sporadically at best so far. Matt Ryan and this passing attack are going to need some complementary help from their run game at some point. But that is much easier said than done.
The offensive line has weak spots that must be addressed soon. And yes, Jalen Mayfield is one of those weak spots. The run game just has not gotten going this season. Atlanta is 27th in rush attempts and 31st in total rushing yards, leading only the New York Jets. They are also 31st in rushing yards-per-carry, which is fitting given the offensive line’s ability to set the line of scrimmage. As great as it would be to say that this would be the perfect opportunity to get things going, it is not. The Cowboys are in the top half of the league in both yards-per-carry and rushing DVOA.
The defensive philosophy of the Cowboys matches that which gives Atlanta the most trouble. Rush four, drop seven into coverage, make the quarterback win the game. Matt Ryan can do the latter, but the problem is that the Cowboys can still get home with just four as they rank sixth in quarterback knockdowns per drop-back.
There is a silver lining, though. The secondary of the Cowboys is very aggressive. This aggression by the Dallas secondary leaves holes in coverages that can be exploited if, and only if, Ryan gets time to find them. Atlanta fans can expect to see Cordarrelle Patterson and Pitts all over the field to force Dan Quinn into making a mistake.
The Falcons are paying a visit to their old head coach, who is now the Cowboys defensive coordinator, and a couple of guys that used to don the black and red. Keanu Neal was a key contributor to the defense’s success in the Falcons 2016-2017 Super Bowl run. Damontae Kazee came to Atlanta the following year and made an immediate impact on the Falcons defense. Both of them reunited with Quinn and have carved out solid roles in the Dallas defense.
The Falcons are not going to stop the Dallas offense. The defense is just too thin at key positions. Ceedee Lamb or Amari Cooper may not have a good game thanks to the fact that the Falcons have A.J. Terrell. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. Who is going to stop Ezekiel Elliot late in the third quarter? Who is going to set the edge and keep Prescott in the pocket on third and long? Sam Darnold had 66 yards rushing against the Falcons because of those deficiencies.
Maybe Atlanta will come out and shock the world and beat the Cowboys and keep their playoff hopes alive. They love to play hard when they are road underdogs. Just ask the New Orleans Saints.