The Atlanta Falcons will face a prime-time test when the Dallas Cowboys come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, November 4. On paper, the unbeaten Falcons should be heavily favored against the struggling 3-4 Cowboys. But key matchups might make team records irrelevant.
Cowboys' Jason Witten Might Wreak Havoc
While much has been made about Tony Romo's 13 interceptions, Romo does have an ace in the hole with TE Jason Witten. Witten, like Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, is as big a threat as any wide receiver. Witten leads the Cowboys with 51 receptions and 28 receptions for first downs. Witten has proved he can keep the chains moving, and the best way to beat Atlanta is by keeping QB Matt Ryan and the offense off the field.
To complicate matters, the Atlanta Falcons' best defensive player, LB Sean Weatherspoon, has an injured ankle. Coach Mike Smith has said Weatherspoon is day to day, but even if he plays he will be slowed with the sprain.
Falcons DC Mike Nolan may have to be creative when covering Witten. Nolan has already shown creativity this year when trying to confuse opposing quarterbacks. On several plays, Nolan had speedy DE Kroy Biermann drop start at the line, only to drop back to the safety position once the ball was snapped. He uses corners on the blitz and will put linebackers in coverage.
Nolan will need all of his tools to shut down Witten. Coverage by committee may be his best option.
Or Maybe Not
There is a chance that Witten may not be a factor. The Atlanta Falcons' defense practices against TE Tony Gonzalez everyday. They are accustomed to defending against an athletically gifted tight end, so they may already be prepared for what Witten will bring on Sunday.
In the end, Witten having a career day might actually be a good omen for the Atlanta Falcons. Witten's 51 receptions are impressive out of context. When you look a little closer, Witten appears to be an S.O.S. for the Cowboys. In the Cowboys' four losses, Witten has 41 receptions compared to only 10 in the Cowboys' three wins.
Either way, the Atlanta Falcons' defense will have to be on top of their game to avoid a prime-time letdown.