Success isn’t free in the NFL. Players have to earn it week in and week out. Even when a team is a heavy favorite, players better bring their A-game because the opposing team is also filled with professionals trying to catch them sleeping. The Dallas Cowboys learned that last Sunday when they were dominated by the Denver Broncos.
By the way, the Buffalo Bills also did with a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And if the Cowboys needed yet another reminder, Week 10 got off to a start with the Baltimore Ravens to the Miami Dolphins! The Dolphins had walked into the game as an 8.5-point underdog.
Well, the Cowboys are once again heavy favorites. This time, against the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons. Although they’re currently “in” the playoffs, the Falcons have struggled just about everywhere. They rank 31st in total Football Outsider’s DVOA – which measures a team’s efficiency – only ahead of the Detroit Lions.
That doesn’t mean we should be confident about the Dallas Cowboys getting an “easy win” on Sunday. Even less so when an already vulnerable pass rush is losing its most productive player in Randy Gregory.
While Dan Quinn’s defense has proven to adjust aggressively like they did when moving Micah Parsons to defensive end, it’s still far from ideal to face that situation when facing a Falcons team with tough match-ups at WR, RB, and TE.
But there’s one thing that’s clearly different from the Cowboys’ opponent this weekend. It’s different from the Los Angeles Chargers (when Dallas also missed Gregory) and the Denver Broncos (that absolutely dominated the Cowboys physically).
That one thing is that the Dallas Cowboys can dominate the line of scrimmage against the Falcons. It will be a challenge to do so without the team’s top pass rusher this season, but the thing is the Atlanta Falcons offensive line is… bad.
As mentioned in the above clip of my show A to Z Sports Dallas Primetime, the Falcons’ offensive line is ranked 30th in the NFL by PFF. Atlanta’s linemen have all given up double-digit pressures this season and there are no signs of it getting better anytime soon.
What about on the other side of the ball? That’s a more interesting topic given how different evaluations are on the Cowboys’ offensive line. PFF ranks it as the best O-line in the league. Yet they rank 28th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. The jury is still out on an offensive line that’s seen most of its struggles come from Connor Williams and Tyler Biadasz.
Last weekend, Terence Steele struggled in his first game of the year taking over the left side, but the second-year swing tackle should improve with more practice over there.
But there is good news! Do you know that Atlanta Falcons offensive line that we just described as bad? Well, Atlanta ranks 31st in the NFL in pressure rate. And they don’t blitz all that much, ranking 21st in the league in blitz rate.
The Cowboys should have the edge on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and that will go a long way in making this a very different game from what we witnessed vs the Broncos last Sunday.
Featured image Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports