Cowboys vs. Falcons: Full Preview, Predictions & Analysis for Sunday Night
The Falcons' (7-0) biggest issue is that many of the teams they're beating have beaten other teams frequently. Beside the Denver Broncos, it's difficult to assume any of their other opponents so far will make the playoffs. Undefeated is undefeated, yes, but critics aren't going to die down unless Atlanta comes out of each week unscathed.
Still, this team is firing on all cylinders and appears to have all the weapons Matt Ryan could ever need.
The Cowboys (3-4) haven't beaten anyone of note since Week 1 and aren't firing on any cylinders.
In fact, their engine might be seized up and rusting on the side of the road. Jerry Jones can't possibly have this much patience as his quarterback, stud receiver, head coach and more get bashed week-in and week-out, both on the field and in the (local and national) media.
There's plenty of time to turn the season around, but it's hard to trust they have the fortitude to do it. A win against the Falcons would quickly put their season on the right track.
So, who wins on Thursday night?
Key Storyline No. 1: Are the Atlanta Falcons as Good as Their Record?
It's already been mentioned above, but it's going to be repeated ad infinitum on Sunday night, so why not re-visit it again? If you want to pretend I'm sitting somewhat askew on a stool like a younger Bob Costas, go right ahead.
Just how good are Atlanta Falcons?
Fans are going to say, "we're undefeated, stupid!" Well, yes, the Falcons are undefeated. That alone qualifies them as the best team, especially when one considers the myriad mental challenges of staying undefeated. Are they playing the best football?
Maybe that question is a little harder to answer.
The Falcons are good, maybe even great, but they can't really run the ball or stop the run. Their pass defense (shocking Peyton Manning aside) has been solid but shaky as well. On offense, Matt Ryan has looked stellar, but there are still dry spells that a better team (like one they haven't faced yet) would hop on.
The Cowboys are not a big test for the Falcons, either, so the expectation here can't just be to win, it needs to be a convincing win.
Key Storyline No. 2: Just How Patient Is Jerry Jones?
Honestly guys, who is this old man sitting in Jones' sky box?
I get that Jones is loyal to Jason Garrett and his brother, but this is starting to get absurd. The Cowboys have been in disarray for a while, and every time they get better in one area, they take two steps back in another.
The team does not look prepared to win each week, and while we can all disagree who the biggest problem is, there are far too many candidates to be comfortable with.
Yes, much of the blame does fall on Jones, who stubbornly refuses to admit he doesn't know a blasted thing about football and shouldn't be anywhere near the war room on draft day, but he isn't going to fire himself.
The Cowboys should not be a rebuilding team, but that's what they look like right now, and Garrett has run out of time to learn on the job. The Cowboys need to start winning or the firing dominoes will start falling.
Keys for the Dallas Cowboys
If the Cowboys are going to get their own running game going, this needs to be the week. Felix Jones should be ready to go, and the Falcons' rushing defense has been terrible. Trust me when I say the Falcons' safeties are licking their chops at the thought of Tony Romo passing 30 times, so the Cowboys need to put a balanced offensive plan in place and execute.
Who Wins on Sunday Night?
To some extent, the Cowboys also need to take some shots down the field. No, this isn't contradictory, because the success of those shots, of course, depends on how effective their run game is. The last thing the Cowboys need, though, is another close game.
Matt Ryan will crush them in a close game.
On defense, the Cowboys need to take advantage of the Falcons' offensive line difficulties. While the Falcons' passing attack has improved, DeMarcus Ware should have a field day no matter what gap he's asked to attack. If Ryan is rattled, the Cowboys could win this one running away.
Keys for the Atlanta Falcons
Protection and steady play needs to be the name of the game on Sunday night.
Without a doubt, the Cowboys have as much (if not more) talent than any team the Falcons have faced other than the Broncos. On offense, Ryan needs to make quick, sharp decisions and his backs might be better served staying in to block. Expect a steady dose of Tony Gonzalez as a safety valve and Jacquizz Rodgers may see extra time tonight in the same role.
While Roddy White and Julio Jones are the most explosive weapons, the Cowboys are stout on the outside and there are probably other easier battles to win.
On defense, the Falcons need to win battles up front because they can't afford to commit extra players to the run game. They need to "let" Felix Jones be the guy to beat them because Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten actually can.
The loss of Curtis Lofton and injury to Lofa Tatupu did a number on their linebacking corps. As fantastic as Sean Weatherspoon has been, Akeem Dent has been just as bad. To make up for that, look for the Falcons to spend extra time in sub packages as Witten is better-covered by a defensive back.
Bold Prediction: A Dallas Cowboys' Coach Will Be Fired Early Next Week
Maybe (probably) it isn't Garrett, but someone has to be held accountable if the Cowboys lose and *spoiler alert* I'm picking them to lose. Special Teams coach Joe DeCamillis has already gotten the dreaded vote of confidence from Jones, so it could easily be him.
Two games under .500 isn't the end of the world, but perception is reality for the Cowboys and reality is about to come crashing down in Dallas.
Player of the Game Prediction: Jacquizz Rodgers
Rodgers should have the ball in his hands a lot on Sunday night between running it, catching it out of the backfield and getting to return it. The Cowboys have a problem wrapping up on special teams and aren't exactly fantastic in the open field on defense, either.
Rodgers is the type of player who can get big yardage even when a team thinks they have him bottled up, and he's a great bet to do so on Sunday night. Look for one big special teams play and a number of timely long gainers on offense.
Final Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 28, Dallas Cowboys 23
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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