In a matchup of underachieving teams, the Falcons and Cowboys meet up with major playoff implications on the line. Fortunately for both of these 4-5 squads, the rest of the NFC has been equally as inconsistent aside from a few outliers. Seattle and Philadelphia each sit at 4-5 as well, the Packers just ahead of them at 4-4-1 and the Vikings hold the final playoff spots with a 5-3-1 record. A loss does not mathematically put the loser out of the playoff picture, but it does put a lot of teams between where they are at and where they are trying to be.
Dallas is a different beast than they have been in the past. This time around, it will be their defense looking to carry them to victory. The Cowboys are littered with talent on that side of the ball, starting with DeMarcus Lawrence. He has become a player teams have to gameplan around week in and week out, recording 21 sacks since the beginning of the 2017 season.
The difference is this time Dallas has a lot more than just Lawrence for teams to worry about. Leighton Vander Esch has thrived in his more prominent role at linebacker and he has a pretty solid running mate next to him in Jaylon Smith, who has become everything the Cowboys hoped when they took a risk on him in back in the 2016 draft. Can you imagine how crazy this linebacking unit would be with a healthy Sean Lee? Unfortunately, that just has not happened much over Lee’s career.
It should make for an entertaining matchup, as they face a Falcons offense that has to be hot about the number of opportunities they let slip through their hands a week ago. They return home, where nobody has had much success slowing them down. Atlanta is averaging 32.2 points at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a season-low of 23 against the Giants. The Falcons still tallied well over 400 yards of offense in that one.
However, the formula for slowing down the Atlanta offense has been exposed at times. They are inconsistent in the run game, which does not bode well when facing a top-10 run defense. Although, for what it’s worth, the Falcons best two rushing displays came against the Panthers and Redskins, also two top-10 run defenses.
The offensive line has also shown vulnerability in pass protection. Best way to beat Matt Ryan? Put guys right in his face. The Cowboys have the athletes across from him to make that happen.
What might even be more intriguing is the matchup between the Cowboys offense and Falcons defense. After all, these are why they both have losing records. Half of Atlanta’s defense has gone down with injury. It looked like they may have solved some of their issues in wins versus the Giants and Redskins, but they showed all of their flaws and most of their true colors in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Browns. The one shining light: Deion Jones may be on the field for the first time since Week 1. He’s officially been activated from Injured-Reserve. That’s a positive sign, but it’s unknown if he will actually play. Dan Quinn has stated multiple times he will take it slow with his Pro-Bowl linebacker and that he needs to be at 100% in order to return.
A Jones return would be horrid news for Dallas because they need all the help they can get offensively. However, you would not know it after their most recent performance in the city of Brotherly Love. Dak Prescott even looked like reliable QB again, tossing for 270 yards and a score in a 27-20 win over the defending Super Bowl Champs. Ezekiel Elliott feasted, scoring two times and recording over 180 yards from scrimmage. The newly acquired Amari Cooper pitched in with 6 receptions for 75 yards as well. There is reason for optimism surrounding America’s team, but anyone in Dallas will tell you, periods of recent success have been followed by utter disappointment.
The Falcons are going to be keying in on Ezekiel Elliot all afternoon. Regardless of whether Deion Jones is back in uniform or not, they are going to make Dak Prescott beat them through the air. The good news for the Cowboys is the Falcons have not been able to stop any quarterbacks from throwing on them. Every quarterback since week one has either thrown for 300 yards or 3 touchdowns on Atlanta’s defense. That includes the likes of Eli Manning, Alex Smith, and Baker Mayfield over the last three weeks. Prescott records his first 300-yard game since November of 2016, but it won’t be enough to outscore these Falcons at home. Matt Ryan and the offense put one of their worst showings behind them and look like the machine that they are, even up against a stingy Cowboys defense.
Falcons 26, Cowboys 21