Cowboys vs Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for Dallas
It will be a tough matchup as Dallas heads on the road to take on one of the most explosive offenses in the league. It will be up to the Cowboys defense to continue its strong play and the offense to put up four quarters of consistent play.
This will be one of the toughest tests for Dallas all season, but if it can manage to rebound, it will be a huge boost heading into the second half of the year.
So, here are 10 keys of the game for the Cowboys on Sunday evening.
Tony Romo Playing Turnover Free
In the Dallas Cowboys four losses this season Tony Romo has thrown 11 picks. In the team's three wins just three.
See a connection?
Turnovers decide games; it's that simple. They change the momentum, lead to easy points and kill drives. A team may out gain, out possess and out play their opponent, but if they lose the turnover battle, the game will likely go against them.
Dallas is playing one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and Romo can't afford to put them in a huge hole like he did against the New York Giants.
If the Cowboys win the turnover battle, they have a great chance of pulling the upset. But if Romo has one of his interception binges, Dallas has no shot.
Get Pressure on Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is having the best year of his career throwing bombs to Julio Jones and Roddy White, and his accuracy has made the Atlanta Falcons tough to stop.
He's already thrown for 2,018 yards, 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also has a completion percentage of 68.7 and a passer rating of 103.
However, he has struggled at times when pressure gets in his face, as he isn't the most mobile quarterback. The Falcons are also middle of the road in pass protection and have given up the most sacks in the NFL.
It's the best way to attack their offense and DeMarcus Ware and company must be in the face of Ryan all game in order to find success.
Establish the Run Game Early
DeMarco Murray's status is up in the air for this weekend, but with or without him the Dallas Cowboys must establish the run game, and do so early.
Dallas enters the contest as the fourth worst rushing team in the NFL, averaging only 86 yards a game.
However, in order to attack the Atlanta Falcons defense and keep their prolific offense off the field, the Cowboys must utilize the run.
Atlanta is 26th in the league defending the run, and the best way to attack them is on the ground. This means the o-line must get great push and Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner must take advantage of every opportunity.
Establishing the run will make Tony Romo's job easier and would assist in controlling time of possession.
It in no way guarantees a victory, the Baltimore Ravens' game is proof of that, but a solid rushing attack is key in defeating a team like Atlanta.
Contain Tony Gonzalez
If the Dallas Cowboys have one of the best tight ends in NFL history in Jason Witten, the Atlanta Falcons have the best.
Tony Gonzalez is a legend for the way he revolutionized the tight end position, and despite his 36 years of age, he's still one of the most dangerous threats in the NFL.
Actually, as effective as the Falcons wide outs have been, it is perhaps Gonzalez that has been Matt Ryan's most dangerous weapon.
He forces defenses to take either a linebacker or safety out of either run coverage or pass protection, allowing more running lanes and one-on-one matchups.
Before last week it would have been the task of Sean Lee to contain Gonzalez, now the role will likely fall to second-year man Bruce Carter.
If Carter can get the better of Gonzalez, it would go a long way to containing the Falcons attack, and would take away Ryan's safety blanket.
However, if Gonzalez goes off, it will be almost impossible for the Cowboys to slow Atlanta down.
Make a Special Teams Play
When facing an undefeated team like the Atlanta Falcons often times a big play in the third aspect of the game can swing the tide.
Dallas needs one of these such plays from the special teams on Sunday.
Whether it comes from the kick or punt return unit, a momentum-swinging play needs to happen outside of the offensive and defensive snaps.
It won't come from Dez Bryant this week either, as he has been stripped of his punt return duties by the coaching staff after a turnover last weekend.
This leaves the task up to young skill players such as Lance Dunbar and Dwayne Harris to make a play. It's not likely, but a timely return would do wonders in swinging the game in Dallas' favor.
Convert Every Red Zone Opportunity
The Atlanta Falcons will score, their 28.7 points a game attests to that. This means Dallas will have to score to keep up, and not only that, take advantage of every opportunity to do so.
Converting in the red zone, an area where the Dallas Cowboys have struggled this season, is key.
Dallas is only converting 47 percent of their red zone appearances into touchdowns, the 20th best clip in the NFL. A lack of consistent running game has cost them, and it's something that must change this week
Teams key in on the pass on the goal line because the Cowboys have showed an inability to punch the ball in.
However, this can't be the case this week. Each time Dallas enters the red zone it must convert. And field goals won't cut it, the Cowboys must get touchdowns.
If not, wasted opportunities will do in Dallas for the umpteenth time this year.
Force Them to Be One-Dimensional
The Atlanta Falcons' passing game is tough enough to stop on its own, but if the running game gets going, it's almost impossible.
This is why the Dallas Cowboys must force Atlanta to be one-dimensional. If Dallas can stop the run early and often, it will make Atlanta head to the air to find success. And while their aerial attack is potent, Dallas would still be able to key in on it.
Whereas if both offensive aspects were motoring along, the Dallas defense would have fits in trying to contain both the run and the pass.
Matt Ryan or Michael Turner will get their yards, the Cowboys must insure that it's not both.
Limit Explosive Plays
The Atlanta Falcons rely on a punishing running attack to set up their passing plays, and when they see an opportunity, they go deep.
Julio Jones and Roddy White are two of the best deep threats in the NFL, and Matt Ryan has no issues throwing up deep bomb after deep bomb.
Both Jones and White rank among the NFL's top 20 in receiving yards and huge portions of that yardage has come on long passing plays.
It's their calling card. Jones has breakaway speed and White is one of the crispiest route runners in the league.
This means Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins must have outstanding performances to keep up. It's not only that, the Cowboys' safeties must also stay in their coverage areas to ensure the Falcons don't burn them over the top.
If Dallas limits Atlanta's big play offense, it will keep the Cowboys in the game for the majority of the contest.
Force at Least One Turnover
The Atlanta Falcons may not have lost all season, but their closest call on the year—a last second win over the Oakland Raiders—also happens to coincide with Matt Ryan's only multiple pick game of the year.
As stated in slide one, the winner of the turnover margin usually wins games, which is why the Dallas defense must find a way to force one.
It's important against average teams and imperative against the great ones like the Falcons.
The way the turnover comes doesn't matter. It can be a spectacular interception or a fluke fumble, either way the Dallas Cowboys must force a momentum-swinging play.
Tony Romo Outplaying Matt Ryan
I know, I know, this is the second Tony Romo slide. But the fact of the matter is, the NFL is a quarterback driven league.
Often times whichever quarterback plays best will come away with the victory. It will be no different in this game.
Both Matt Ryan and Romo are good to elite-level QB's and the one that plays the best will give his team a huge advantage.
If one or the other does a disappearing act, their team will lose. Romo must ensure it's not him. If not, Dallas will fall to 3-5, guaranteed.