FRISCO, Texas – There's a lot to break down in a game like this.
First and foremost, it's mid-November – and the injury report reflects that. The Cowboys look about as beat up as they've been all year, and they'll likely have to shuffle some things to get through this game.
On top of that, this is probably the most explosive offense that Dallas has faced all season. The Falcons have an MVP talent at quarterback and a possible Hall of Famer catching passes from him. Healthy or not, the Cowboys figure to have their hands full with this one.
So here's my breakdown of what to expect as we get ready for an early kick in Atlanta:
· I'm feeling good about Tyron Smith and Zack Martin for their availability this week. There were some questions early in the week about Smith's back and Martin's knee, but both players appear to have worked through those issues. Xavier Su'a-Filo will once again get the start for Connor Williams. Williams has made nice progress since his procedure and was able to take part in practice this week more than just working on the side.
· Keep an eye on what happens at defensive tackle this weekend. Maliek Collins worked his way back into practice but overall this group is a little on the thin side. With David Irving and Daniel Ross out and Antwaun Woods in the concussion protocol, it's been a struggle. Tyrone Crawford has filled in at times along with Caraun Reid and Christian Ringo, who is currently on the practice squad. If Woods is unable to go, that would be a tremendous blow to the defense that needs his ability inside. My gut is that Ringo will be called up and Woods sits.
· Something else to think about as a potential adjustment for the Cowboys with their defensive line is to play more three-man fronts. We have seen this before when they lost some men during games. The Falcons are not interested running the ball, and if they try against this scheme, the Cowboys are equipped to handle it with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. If the Falcons are going to throw the ball, it makes sense to go with one less linemen and put an extra defensive back on the field. There are different looks that they can give the Falcons that they might not have worked on, along with some different blitz packages.
· We all know how dangerous Julio Jones can be as a receiver. He has caused plenty of sleepless nights for plenty of defensive coordinators around this league. Just watching how Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard have handled those star receivers over the years is that they tend to play them straight up, in large part due to the great talent they've had to work with. I think Marinelli and Richard have confidence in both Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones to line up this way, but I also believe they're creative enough to come up with a package or two that would put Byron Jones on Julio Jones. Again, I don't see it every down, but it could be something they go to when they need a critical stop.
· It's been a huge struggle for the Falcons defensively on first down. Opponents have averaged 6.9 yards on first downs this year. This is a good sign for a Cowboys offense that operates better when it can have success on those earlier downs, which sets them up for manageable third down conversions.
· In just studying the Falcons this week, I would expect the Cowboys to attack Robert Alford in this matchup. He appears to be the one guy that really struggles when he has to deal with a big-time receiver that is an excellent route runner and finisher. Guys like Michael Thomas and A.J. Green made it difficult for him to defend in this way. Amari Cooper has similar traits to Thomas and Green, so it will not be a question whether he can get open -- but if Dak Prescott can get him the ball in those situations. With the way the Falcons can score, this Cowboys offense can't afford any missed opportunities.
· My biggest concern is with the Falcons' ability to make those chunk plays in the passing game. This offense is fourth-best in the league when it comes to those plays of 20-plus yards, with 38 of those types of receptions. The big problem for the Cowboys is that they can play perfect defense on early downs and then give up a back-breaking reception to Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley that completely flips the direction of the game. If the Cowboys defensively do not handle the Falcons passing game well by limiting those chunk plays, it will be difficult for them to win this game despite how poor the Falcons are on defense.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, WR Tavon Austin, LB Sean Lee, DT Daniel Ross, DT Antwaun Woods, DT David Irving, DE Taco Charlton.