IRVING, Texas – The injuries to this Cowboys offense are going to fuel the talking points going forward for the next eight or so weeks, which is totally understandable. It will be a challenge for the Dallas offense to overcome the loss of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant – this Sunday against Atlanta, as well as in every other game.
As you might guess, though, there are challenges all over the field for the Cowboys this week, and they can't afford to keep a narrow focus. With my first breakdown this week, I'm going to pay plenty of attention to the offensive matchups facing the Dallas defense before circling back to the defense.
Nemesis: Matt Ryan, QB
Ryan has always played the game with a great deal of passion and physical toughness. He's working in a new offensive system under Kyle Shanahan, and it appears to be going well for him. Shanahan is not asking Ryan to win the game by himself – he is playing to his strengths with his ability to throw off of the play action pass.
In the previous system, Ryan was asked to hold the ball longer while allowing routes to develop. Now, the ball is out of his hand quickly and usually to a receiver on the move. By playing this way Shanahan is limiting the number of times that Ryan takes hits in the pocket, protecting his health.
I would not say that Ryan has top arm talent or strength, but his touch and accuracy are outstanding. He does a nice job of leading receivers up the field or throwing a ball to a running back in the flat. He's also good when throwing the ball on the move. The new scheme requires him to have to move laterally in order to make throws off boot action.
This is a hard guy to rattle – plays with poise and awareness. He takes snaps both from underneath center and from the shotgun. His pocket and drop mechanics are good. He will break the pocket to escape trouble, and he has shown the ability to improvise when he has to. Can throw the ball off balance with the flick of the wrist.
He still has the occasional untimely turnover, but the scheme has helped him cut down on those questionable throws.
Weapon: Julio Jones, WR
There is no question that Julio Jones is the focus of this Atlanta offense. Tevin Coleman has done a nice job of providing balance in the running game, but it's Jones that makes it go.
In Jones, the Falcons have what the Cowboys have in Dez Bryant – a dynamic player that really loves the game. For such a physically large man, Jones plays as if he has little man feet. His initial quickness and burst are outstanding off the line.
Jones is one of those players where, when you are studying him on tape, you can feel him coming off the ball. He can really cover some ground when he gets into his routes. In the old system, was more of a home run threat, but now he gets the ball quicker on screens and routes where he can work inside. Kyle Shannon wants to get the ball in his hands in a hurry and let him run. He can be an absolute nightmare for a defensive back to have to deal with one-on-one in space. Catches passes all over the field and from all different spots in the formation.
In this new Falcons scheme, it appears they have a built-in read if Jones is given too much space in coverage pre snap – Matt Ryan simply raises up and gets him the ball. As difficult as it might seem, in order for this Dallas secondary to slow Jones down, they are going to have to play him tight in coverage and not allow him the ability to get up the field.
Under the Radar: O'Brien Schofield, OLB / DE
O'Brien Schofield is a player that Dan Quinn had while he was with the Seahawks, and he is one of the first players Quinn brought with him when he accepted the job.
Schofield is an interesting player when you study him on tape, because he has that ability to line up at a couple of different spots in the scheme and be productive. He is very similar to the type of player that the Cowboys have in Kyle Wilber, where you can use him as an outside linebacker but also along the defensive line at rusher end in the nickel.
The first thing you notice about him is he has outstanding quickness off the snap. He plays with a burst and shows the acceleration to really come off the corner when he is put in those situations. His hips and change of direction are very good to capture the corner. There is not any stiffness in the way he rushes. I liked what I saw from his hand use and his balance when he was engaged with the blocker.
You can see that Schofield was well trained in the Seahawks' system in the pass rush moves that he uses and is just not an up-field rusher. Schofield will work the majority of his snaps off the left side unless the Falcons decide that rookie Vic Beasley will have a better chance working against Doug Free and flip him to the other side.
I didn't know much about him before this season, but he is a really good player that fits their scheme well.
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