Grizz: Hey Falcon fans, I thought I'd give you a heads-up on what to expect from the Cowboys on Saturday night. Dave the Falconer was kind enough to provide me some real estate on his blog. So here goes.
The Dallas Cowboys are a balanced offense. They depend on the pass just a bit more than the run, but are capable in both areas. With Tony Romo at QB, it's been working well - well, until last week. So let's get that out of the way, the Cowboys stunk last week, outplayed and out-coached, they got smoked. I'm guessing - maybe hoping is the correct word - that they won't repeat that performance.
Tony Romo is poised for a young QB; he's very comfortable in the pocket, he has a good sense of when the pocket is collapsing, and gets to safety quickly. He throws well on the run and has a very quick release. He reads defenses well, and until recently, was very judicious about turning over the ball in his starts. He throws the short to intermediate ball better than the long ball, but he can beat you deep. So far, what book there is on him says to keep him in the pocket and try to take away his first read. He is a gunslinger, so he will take chances. He is young, and this is the first time he's playing after a start where he really didn't play well, so we'll see how he bounces back.
The Dallas running game is the two-headed monster. Julius Jones works 1st and 2nd down, Marion Barber handles 3rd down, the goal line and short-yardage. Jones is the home run threat, more of a quicker, slippery back. Barber is the slasher/bruiser who is a TD machine on the goal line. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield. Both are pretty good at picking up the blitz and neither fumbles. Look for them to split their carries 60-40 or so depending on how the game unfolds.
The Cowboys receiving corps is one of the better in the league. Terrell Owens is having a very good year and leads the Cowboys in most categories. He also leads us in drops and off-the-field hysteria, but come game time, he usually does his job of making catches and drawing double-teams. Watch for him on crossing patterns, curls and go patterns. Terry Glenn is the quiet killer, he is having a good season too, and is right behind Owens as the number one threat, and is usually the guy who makes the tough play or the crucial play. He's very fast and has great hands, if you don't watch him every week you really don't see how good he is, so be careful. Jason Witten is a top-tier pass-catching TE who is having a little bit of a down season. A lot of that has to do with his atrocious stats when Drew Bledsoe was the QB, but that has changed since Romo has taken over. In fact, all the receivers have seen their numbers jump - except maybe Terry Glenn who was Bledsoe's favorite target - since Romo has been installed. Witten will also make the big play when the Cowboys need it. Patrick Crayton serves as the 3rd WR and is having a great year for a number three receiver.
The Cowboys line is the enigma. Since Romo has started, they've played better. But Romo has helped them play better by being mobile, having a quick release and a better sense of the pocket. They still can blow a block or two, but they're not the sieve they were when Bledsoe was in, because any mistake back then was a sack or a turnover. So they will give up some bad plays, but Romo does a good job of rescuing them. C Andre Gurode has had a good year, as has RT Marc Colombo. LT Flozell Adams is big, but a little slow sometimes, watch his matchup with John Abraham. In run blocking they are an above average group and they love to pull G Kyle Kosier.
It's hard to run against the Cowboys defense and that is what Atlanta likes to do, so this will be a huge factor in who wins this game. The Cowboys play the 3-4 defense and NT Jason Ferguson is the key block in their run defense. If he's able to take on double-teams and stand-up the blockers, then the Cowboys linebackers make the kill. MLB's Bradie James and Akin Ayodele are very active tacklers, but will need to be on watch for the patented cut-back from the running back in a zone blocking scheme. ROLB DeMarcus Ware is the most dynamic player in the Cowboys front seven and is the guy they count on to create havoc in the backfield. He has an unusual combination of speed, size, agility and power. He can drop into coverage or rush the passer, and will probably be counted on to keep an eye on Mike Vick.
The Cowboys in general have trouble applying consistent pressure on the QB. But since they play a more conservative defense with lots of zone coverage and not a lot of blitzing, they should be in position to contain Vick as well as is humanly possible. They don't want him running, so they will try to create a "U" around him and force him to pass, just like they did to Vince Young earlier this year.
The Cowboys have a very good secondary on the outside, and a suspect secondary up the middle. CB Terence Newman is as good as any in the league, you can look it up! Believe me, he's as good a cover corner as you'll find in the NFL. On the other side, Anthony Henry is a very competent corner; he'll give up the occasional big play but is generally pretty solid and is a great tackler in run support. FS Keith Davis and SS Roy Williams can definitely get beat in pass coverage. Davis is more suited to SS anyway. Williams is a fierce hitter and has a nose for getting turnovers, but his coverage ability is average at best. Alge Crumpler against those two should be a mismatch and plays into one of the Falcons' strengths. If I was Atlanta's OC, that's right where I'd go.
The Cowboys were a struggling team when Drew Bledsoe was at the helm. Once Romo took over, the offense started clicking and things went swimmingly. Then came the Saints game. If Dallas plays like that, the Falcons will be celebrating, if they return to form on offense, they can put up 25-30 points against anybody. On defense, they can shut down a good offense, especially one that relies on the run. But Atlanta will put that theory to the test, so if Dallas can at least contain the run, their offense should put them over the top.