Most of the time, I'm going to side with my favorite propane salesman ever. But this week, Mr. Hank Hill, I'm going to have to turn on you and your team for my Dirty Birds.
A trip to Dallas would have had me sweating two years ago, even last year (as long as we'd met them this early in the season), but it's becoming more obvious by the day to me what the Cowboys are: a ground-bound bunch that needs to pray for some other teams to trip up if they want a Wild Card.
On the positive side for them, though, it looks like "America's Team" isn't easily blown out either. I doubt anyone out there has been floored by victories over the Chiefs (you really needed OT?) and this year's iterations of the Bucs and Panthers, but coming within two points of the Giants and a touchdown of the Broncos says a lot.
The Dallas running game lends itself to slower-paced ball. While I don't pretend the Falcon defense can dictate the tempo while they're on the field, at the same time the Atlanta Offense will have all the say when they get out there under the bright lights in the new stadium.
Still, it would be wise for folks like me to keep this in mind: Should the Cowboys win, both clubs will be locked at 4-2, second in their divisions, with early schedules looking mighty similar. The future, however, appears much rockier for us than our competitors (which you best believe includes the 'Boys).
Dallas Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
Not all that often you see a pro team with this much balance in the backfield, but I've pinched myself hard enough to know it's no dream. Three guys over 200 yards already, and all of them have been used to score. Worse yet, Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones (who's questionable for Sunday as I write this, but still...) have diverse skill sets, making them much more difficult to prepare for and successfully counter.
Then again, take a look at how bad we shut up Matt Forte - 1.5 yards per carry - last week, and I don't know that the disadvantage is as big as it could possibly be. In other words, we're still going to give up some serious yardage on the ground, but there are worse teams in the league at stopping the run.
I hate how many times per game we have to rely on Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton to grab the ball carriers. Whether or not it's how the linemen are handling their blockers, the angle opposing backs are taking, or just straight-up player error, that's something for me to analyze as I watch this game. The point is this: Jonathan Babineaux hasn't had a significant wrap-up of a runner since the Dolphins game, and John Abraham is obviously concentrating on getting his pass rush to where it was last year.
The blocking the Cowboys are doing is largely getting overlooked, as most blocking typically does, but the fact that stars like Jason Witten and Roy Williams are throwing themselves into the fray in order to provide protection for this rush attack should be mentioned. In reality, it's only because of their work that exists.
OK, that and Barber's outright distaste for being tackled.
I would suggest to my own guys that we take a containment approach; I'm far less afraid of Tony Romo, even with time in the pocket, than the trio of tailbacks. Backing off a blocker at the line after initial contact to ensure that a stop gets made - even three, four yards into the run - might be wiser than motoring it all afternoon.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Dallas Rush Defense
Looks like "Dirty Doubter" (check an old DDDB ) is winning out: Michael Turner is not going to be among the top five running backs in the league again this year, let alone will he have 1,700 friggin' yards. Not that that makes him any less valid of a player, but you'd be blind to not see that we're leaning on the pass game more and more.
I don't think it's so much about the blocking, and it's certainly not about the Burner's skills. He still moves like he's got tank treads for legs and churns way after contact. He has the exact same mentality he did last season; he doesn't care if he's small, and he doesn't care if you're going to stack three guys on him for a stop, he'll charge just the same.
But teams are better prepared for him now. He's not the underestimated former backup anymore. And unlike the last two teams we've faced, Turner will not be getting to the second level automatically. That's not because the Cowboys line is that great, but because the linebackers are just that good.
Keith Brooking (that traitor!) is still doing the thing he did for us, leading his team in tackles. Bradie James is killing it too, and then there's the little-known (wink wink ) DeMarcus Ware...but more on him in another section. In short, there are plenty of guys who can meet Turner at the line if Jay Ratliff falters (which he's doing less and less).
More concerted efforts by the Birds would be nice to see, even if it means "wasting" a slot on a traditional fullback on the field. We haven't seen my boy Ovie Mughelli for a minute, and Jason Snelling has been a receiver in the last few outings. Why not give 'em a chance to do what they were born for?
I'd even be OK risking Tony Gonzalez...no, that came out wrong.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if we want the run game to start clicking, everybody better chip in.
Dallas Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
To me, it's a bald-faced truth. I'm curious as to what you Dallas people say.
Tony Romo is just not the answer in this situation.
He has made me eat my words a few times, I'll admit, but I do not trust his mechanics and certainly not his decision-making. He's improved both in earlier seasons, but I don't know if he hasn't already hit his ceiling here in year eight.
The aerial assault of the 'Boys could be considerably better without Terrell Owens, as everyone predicted before the season began. We saw last week that big plays can come from either Williams or someone like Miles Austin. And besides that, Tony's got the second-best tight end in the league (who is that first guy, hmm?) as a bail-out option.
Speaking of, we're going to have some trouble covering him and his ridiculous 6'5" height, but I digress...
My point is that the improvement that we should be seeing isn't clear yet, and even against the Falcons' up-and-down secondary, I think the edge goes our way. Remember what Thomas DeCoud did to Jay Cutler last week, and then turn down Cutler's passer rating to the mid-'80s.
Of course, the good news for Lone Star folks is that you guys won't really need to pass the ball all that much, so opportunities for Romo to screw up won't come all that often. I'd love to think that means we can move Chris Houston or Erik Coleman up in the box for help against the run, but then Tony will probably have one of his good days...
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Dallas Pass Defense
Allow me to wax footballisophical for a moment:
The blitz works, in part, because quarterbacks fear the blitz. If a man had no fear of being hit, his mind would operate under pressure exactly the same way it does in practice.
But it doesn't; dudes pump the ball, scramble, yell, lock in on receivers (or become blind to them entirely), and that allows them to get hit while still holding the ball.
Now take into account that Matty Ice was sacked zero times last week while facing a Bears D that was supposedly one of the best at rushing in the league. He threw two picks, but in both of those instances, he made a decent throw. This is a signal caller that stays..well, you know..."cool" under pressure.
Is he going to be flustered by a Cowboy blitz that obviously has a ton of potential and skill but has almost immediately lost its reputation for hitting opposing QBs this year? They've fallen from up-and-away league leaders in the '08 season to 23rd. I mean, where are you, Ware?
I think Ryan will act just as he does in press conferences: poised and wise beyond his years. And I'll more or less guarantee you that, against the Cowboys' defensive backs, one of his favorite targets will be open on darn near every play.
Just take a look at the numbers: Dallas is 26th in passing yards allowed per game and a dreadful dead-last (32nd...do numbers go that high?) in picks. They play with way too much cushion, which is especially bad news facing Roddy White and Gonzo.
Of course, with our success to this point through the air, it's not like the 'Boys won't at least try to focus on that aspect of the game in practice this week. If we become predictable, we risk becoming vulnerable...
But when we can go to Roddy once, Jenkins next, Finn or Snelling or Norwood after that, and Tony G at any given time, how predictable could we be?
Prediction: Falcons 30, Cowboys 27 OT
Please, Dallas devotees, note the "OT." Your team is very good, better than the record shows, and I'm giving you a nod here in addition to all those that I've given throughout (as a refresher: Your running game is diverse and downright scary, I'll give Romo the opportunity to surprise me, and Ware and the rest of the pass-rushers are itching for a breakout).
But when a pass offense like ours gets matched up with a pass defense like that of the Cowboys, I just can't not give us a win.
One more look at the numbers: All four Dallas secondary starters are among the team's top tacklers. Congrats on your stats, but the fact that you got credited means your opponent caught the ball .
Watch and learn, Romo.