3TFO: Cowboys @ Falcons, Week 9
The Atlanta Falcons are flying high after a perfect 7-0 start to the season. MVP candidate Matt Ryan has Atlanta’s offense running like a well-oiled machine, as they have recorded at least 23 points in every contest this season. He currently ranks fifth in both accuracy percentage (78.2) and accuracy percentage under pressure (72.2). If the Falcons want to stay unbeaten, their star quarterback will need to stay hot.
As for the visiting Cowboys, their season has not gone as smooth. It has been a roller coaster ride in Dallas, one that started with a win against the Giants on opening night and recently included a loss at home to the very same team. Their signal-caller, Tony Romo, has not enjoyed the same success as his counterpart in this matchup. Romo’s accuracy percentage (72.7) is barely over Ryan’s accuracy percentage while under pressure. Romo has proven to be a polarizing player, one that is capable of carrying his team to victory or digging them into a hole too big to escape. Finding out which one shows up could go a long way in determining if the Cowboys can pull off an upset.
Falcons Receivers vs. Cowboys Secondary
If you want to stop the Falcons’ offense, it starts with the passing game. This team has come a long way from Matt Ryan’s rookie year when they featured Michael Turner in a ground-and-pound offense. Atlanta loves to air the ball out, and they have a great set of receivers with which to do it. Veteran Roddy White leads this talented group. Ryan has a QB rating of 121.9 when throwing to White, who has hauled in 40 of the 56 passes targeted to him. Julio Jones (+6.0) has had a strong second season and has flashed his enormous upside with his elite physical abilities. In what Tony Gonzalez has called his final season, he has not offered anything as a blocker, but is still a tremendous option in the passing game.
To counter strong passing attacks like the Falcons, the Cowboys made it a point to upgrade their secondary in 2012. They gave a big contract to Brandon Carr and aggressively moved up in the draft to select Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has actually been the better investment thus far, as he is allowing only 1.06 yards per coverage snap, to Carr’s 1.44. The secondary will need to have a strong performance to keep the Cowboys in the game.
Cowboys Outside Linebackers vs. Falcons Offensive Tackles
A large part of the success of the Cowboys defense is the play of the front seven. Demarcus Ware continues to strike fear into opposing offenses in both the passing and running game. He has amassed 27 total QB disruptions and has been a force defending the run as well. He has, however, been charged with seven penalties, so he will need to be more careful in that area. On the opposite side, Anthony Spencer has an impressive Pass Rush Productivity of 13.6 as a result of 14 pressures on only 83 attempts.
Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo have got the job done protecting their quarterback so far, but neither one has been particularly impressive. They rank 29th and 47th in Pass Block Efficiency through 8 weeks. As for the ground game, Atlanta would be wise not to run outside too often, as the two tackles have combined for a -1.3 rating as run blockers — and they will be matching up with two excellent run defenders on the edge.
Tyron Smith vs. John Abraham
After a dreadful start to his sophomore year, Tyron Smith has rebounded nicely. He has allowed 24 total QB disruptions and been flagged eight times, which is bad news for a quarterback who does not like to be disrupted. Romo currently ranks 28th with an accuracy under pressure percentage of 55.6. Keeping his quarterback comfortable will go a long way in Smith helping out the Cowboys’ offense.
Smith’s task will be crucial, as he will match-up plenty against the main source of the Falcons’ pass rush, as John Abraham has lined up against the left tackle on over 58% of passing plays. He leads the defensive line with 26 QB pressures, over a third of the total for the entire defensive line’s 71. No other player on the team has more than 15 pressures, so it will be on the shoulders of the 33-year-old to carry the pass rush against the Cowboys’ offensive line.
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