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Observations from Falcons vs. Cowboys

After re-watching the Falcons’ thorough dismantling of the Cowboys, here are some in-depth thoughts on the game.

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When this game began with a tipped interception of Matt Ryan, I think we all felt the same way: “welp, here we go again.” But instead of tensing up and crumbling—like we had seen at times this season—the Falcons methodically re-asserted control of the game, and by halftime had taken over. Their 10-7 lead would turn into 27-7 on the back of 27 unanswered points, and end with a thorough and complete obliteration of the 5-3 Dallas Cowboys.

I was, frankly, shocked at the way this team came out and played. In many ways, this reminded me of the 2016 playoffs—particularly the game against Seattle. The Falcons got into a small hole to start the game, but then quickly righted the ship and went on to dominate their opponent. After the last several weeks of mediocre football, this performance was pretty surprising.

I re-watched the game to get a better handle on the Falcons’ impressive win. For my play-by-play observations, check out my tweet recap thread:

Now that the self-promotion is out of the way, let’s get to my overall thoughts on the game.

Adrian Clayborn and the rest of the pass rush were dominant

The first thing that jumps out at you when re-watching this game is the absolute thrashing the Falcons’ defensive line gave the Cowboys offense. Chaz Green was the most obvious target—and boy, he was awful—but the rest of the line struggled as well. Dontari Poe blew past All Pro G Zach Martin for his first full sack. Vic Beasley regularly got pressure against RT La’el Collins despite getting chipped often. The rotational guys, like Brooks Reed, made their presence known too.

Clayborn deserves the accolades for his historic 6-sack performance, but the pass rush as a whole played by far their best game of the season—and perhaps the best game of the Quinn era. That’s very encouraging against a line that, outside of the aforementioned Chaz Green (and his replacement Byron Bell), is generally regarded as one of the best in the league. They’ll need that ferocious pass rush to stay hot this week against Seattle’s bad OL.

The run defense was more disciplined and the tackling has improved

The Falcons’ run defense has been, at best, an up-and-down unit through nine games. We saw them totally shut down the Jets’ rushing attack in Week 8, before getting shredded by the Panthers’ option-based ground game in Week 9. I had no idea what to expect facing a Dallas team that featured arguably the best rushing attack in the NFL. The task would certainly be easier with Ezekiel Elliott sidelined, but Alfred Morris is no slouch either.

Outside of one drive, the Falcons’ defense completely shut down the Cowboys’ ground game. Dak Prescott was their most effective rusher and scored their only points with his legs. The team still struggles a bit with containing mobile QBs, but they’re doing a much better job at shutting down RBs. I was very impressed with the play of the interior defensive line against the likes of Travis Frederick and Zach Martin—if you can create disruption against those two, you can do it against anyone. Gap discipline and tackling have continued to improve, and it seems like the loss of Duke Riley to injury has actually helped this defense play sounder football.

Tevin Coleman is ready to carry to load if needed

When Devonta Freeman left the game with a concussion, the collective sadness from the Falcons’ faithful could probably be felt from space. This offense depends on his production on the ground and through the air, and he’s also a tremendously fun player to watch. Tevin Coleman came in and assumed the starting role, and I think we should be encouraged by what we saw—particularly in the second half.

Coleman is clearly talented enough to be a starting RB in the NFL (and he will be if/when he leaves Atlanta after 2018), and he’s clearly very comfortable in the offense. He’s not the same style of runner as Freeman, and it seems like Sarkisian may have started to use him in the proper manner during this game. Coleman was very effective running the outside zone and is extremely dangerous in space. I’d like to see the team make a more concerted effort to get him involved in the passing game, but otherwise the offense seems like it will be in capable hands during Freeman’s (hopefully brief) absence.

The offense had their best game since Week 2

My disdain for Sarkisian’s playcalling is well known, but I have to give him his due for this performance. This may have been the first cohesive gameplan I’ve seen from him since Week 2, and overall, I thought he called a pretty good game. The offense was aggressive on early downs, there were more creative route combinations employed, and staples of the 2016 offense—the use of the outside zone, designed rollouts, and plenty of play-action—were more prevalent. Even Taylor Gabriel was schemed open more effectively and had arguably his best game of the season.

As a whole, the offense looked much more fluid and the players looked confident. Matt Ryan was clearly comfortable and had one of his best games of the year outside of one or two throws that were a little off. A somewhat startling stat was that this game featured the Falcons’ first third quarter TD of the year—that’s not good, but at least they’ve got one now. It just seemed to me like, after the TD that put the Falcons up 10-7, this team had a collective sigh of relief. They seemed to “loosen up” afterwards, and then started balling. For a brief moment, we saw a glimpse of the 2016 team again. Let’s hope that this is the start of a turnaround for Atlanta, and not just a blip on the radar.

This win came at the perfect time

Let’s face it: this Falcons team has struggled in 2017. They’ve looked downright awful at times. Atlanta has played sloppy, uninspired football for long stretches—and as fans, we were starting to wonder if that was simply who they really were. Beneath all that, however, is an exceptionally talented roster. In the NFL, talent usually wins out eventually. Against Dallas, we saw the true potential of this 2017 squad: they can dominate teams with both offense and defense.

The Falcons needed a statement win like this, and Sunday was the perfect time to make it. Their backs were against the wall, the division was beginning to slip away, and fans were losing hope. Now, they’ve got an impressive start-to-finish victory under their belts heading into an incredibly important match-up with the Seattle Seahawks. Atlanta has backed themselves into a pretty precarious position, but the team ultimately still controls its own destiny. Win in Seattle and you take over the 6th seed and gain a tiebreaker over yet another Wild Card contender. After being 4-4, a 6-4 record would be a big improvement, with a very winnable game against Tampa Bay up next. Let’s get it done, Falcons.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ impressive win over the Cowboys? How do you feel heading into the showdown with Seattle on Monday night? Are you feeling more confident in this team, and particularly the offense, after their strong performance?