Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys play on Sunday Night Football this week. Despite the Falcons being 7-0, they are fighting a tough streak by the Cowboys of beating teams that are undefeated late in the season.
In order to stop the streak, the Falcons will have to be tough all-around on offense, defense and special teams. Home-field advantage should be a major factor in the Georgia Dome, where the crowds have been rowdy all year.
The following 10 slides will go over the keys to Atlanta winning the game.
1. Protect Matt Ryan from the Talented DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher
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DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher have combined for 10 sacks, six hits and 28 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus' premium stats. That's 45.8 percent of the total quarterback pressures from just those two players.
What makes them good is how they can play games with the left guard and left tackle of opposing teams and force them to make mistakes. This will be a challenge for Justin Blalock and Sam Baker, but with a couple of chips and a running back in to protect, the Falcons should be able to hold them off.
2. Attack Center of the Field with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez
The Cowboys are missing ace middle linebacker Sean Lee in the middle of the field, and their starting strong safety Barry Church is also out for the season with an injury. To compound this, Gerald Sensabaugh is average at best at safety.
The Falcons need to see this weakness and attack it head on. Tony Gonzalez is an ageless wonder, and by using him in seam and post routes over the middle, the Falcons will be forcing the backup-caliber safeties of the Cowboys to creep up.
3. Use the Rushing Attack to Grind Down the Middle of Their Defense
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The nose tackle combination of Sean Lissemore and Jay Ratliff have been very weak against the run this year. Combine that with the Falcons finally having Peter Konz starting and the bruising combination of Blalock and McClure in the middle, and the Falcons should be able to pound the rock up the middle.
They shouldn't rely heavily on Turner but against a run defense that allows a mediocre 4.0 yards per carry, he should be in for a good day.
4. Bring Back the 6- and 7- Man Offensive Lines for Some Plays
The best way to neutralize top pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware is to increase the protection schemes and even add additional linemen. However, the additional linemen packages looked to have been completely scrapped during the bye with backup tight end Michael Palmer getting healthy.
The big lines are also an asset in the running game. When Turner needs to grind out that extra two or three yards, it always helps to have Joe Hawley, Mike Johnson or even Garrett Reynolds come off the bench and provide some extra push in the middle or on the outside.
5. Attack the Weak Right Side of the Cowboys Line with Blitzes on Passing Plays
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Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and right guard McKenzie Bernadeau have been weak in pass protection this year. They have allowed five sacks and three hits so far this season and have been responsible for 42.7 percent of the total pressure allowed on Tony Romo.
With how the Falcons like to mix and match their players along the line, this provides a great opportunity to attack the weak side of the line with blitzes and stunts. By attacking and creating pressure, Romo should make more mistakes and allow the Falcons to have a greater chance of winning the game.
6. Stop the Run, No Matter Who Is Carrying the Ball
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Despite having a good day in the office against the Eagles running game, the Falcons run defense has to build on that momentum and continue to stop the run. Taking out Michael Vick's scrambles when the pocket broke down, the Falcons allowed a paltry 2.94 yards per carry.
If they can do that against the Cowboys, they will force Tony Romo into a higher pressure situation and even more mistakes.
7. Confuse Tony Romo and Force Him into Multiple Turnovers
By now, it seems like the game plan is pretty simple: Attack the center of the Cowboys defense and, when on defense, make Tony Romo be bad Tony Romo. The best way to do that is to treat him as if he is Peyton Manning when designing the defensive disguises and blitzes.
This will only cause him to force passes into small windows and give the Falcons defense a chance at creating turnovers. Winning the turnover battle is no small part as to why the Falcons are currently undefeated.
8. Cover Their Big 3 of Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant Like a Blanket
This one is a no-brainer. Despite losing Laurent Robinson this offseason, the Cowboys have three scary-good options in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Austin has 34 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Bryant has 41 catches for 488 yards and two touchdowns, and Witten has 51 catches for 487 yards and one touchdown.
Despite the high yardage, the Falcons need to be able to do what every other team has done this year against the Cowboys and limit the touchdowns by their big three. If they can do that, then this should be an easier eighth game than anyone expected.
9. Maintain Field Position with the Return Units
Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks have been average return specialists for the Falcons this season with averages of 27.7 yards per kick return and 7.8 yards per punt return. However, they have been intelligent regarding when to return the ball. If they can continue this and win the field-position game, the Falcons should have a better shot at winning this one.
10. Drown the Cowboys with Violent Amounts of Noise in the Dome
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Mike Smith loves having the crowd amped up in the Georgia Dome. It's easy to tell by the smile on his face when other teams have procedural penalties such as false starts and delay of game because they can't even hear themselves think. If the crowd can stay as amped up as it has all season, this will be a long day for Romo and the Cowboys offense.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.