If you’re feeling pessimistic about this Falcons team - and the offense in particular - you’re certainly not alone. Recent performances have shown us enough to think they can bounce back but have ended in the usual disappointment and frustration. Let’s see how the unit matches up with a Cowboys team that’s coming to Atlanta on Sunday.
Note: Assessments based on scores from PFF Edge.
In the trenches
The Falcons still boast a decent offensive line, but recent weeks have been unkind to this unit. Alex Mack is still one of the best centers in the game while veteran guard Andy Levitre has been solid next to him. First year starter Wes Schweitzer has had an up and down season, but generally looks to struggle against top tier defensive tackles with power. Ryan Schraeder has been good, as usual, while Jake Matthews has been inconsistent this year. It was an up and down game against one of the best defensive lines in the game in Carolina, so there’s hope that they can bounce back this week.
For the Cowboys, Maliek Collins is a liability in the middle while David Irving is a quality player next to him. Tyrone Crawford is playing well on the edge. The name to pay attention to is Demarcus Lawrence, who is having a big year as a pass rusher for the Cowboys. He’s a very good pass rusher who already has 10.5 sacks on the year. In pass rushing sets, Taco Charlton comes in and has shown flashes of getting after the passer but only has one sack on the season thus far.
This is a closer match up than people realize, but the Falcons are getting a bit of a break in the middle. Facing guys like Kawaan Short and Kyle Williams has already tested the interior of this Falcons offensive line. Irving is a good player, but the Falcons interior line should have an overall easier match-up this week. Matthews and Schraeder will be tested, but if the interior of the pocket can hold up, they should be good enough.
The skill positions
This Falcons offense has the talent to score, so their recent struggles to do so are perplexing. Matt Ryan may not be an MVP candidate again this year, but he has been playing very well. The issues with the offense aren’t with the QB. Julio Jones may be banged up going into this game, but he’s still one of the best in the league even when not at 100%. Mohamed Sanu has become a trusted weapon for Ryan and is having one of his best seasons ever. Taylor Gabriel has become more of an after thought in this offense, though he still has the physical tools to take one to the house at any time. Austin Hooper has not had a great year and really needs to bounce back soon. Running back Devonta Freeman is still one of the best in the league while Tevin Coleman is also great, if not under-utilized and mis-used when he is in the game. This is a talented unit that is continually under achieving.
The Cowboys have a fantastic linebacker in Sean Lee, but the guys next to him - Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens - are a considerable downgrade. Free safety Byron Jones is a quality player who has been up and down this year. Strong safety Jeff Heath, however, is a liability for this secondary. Corner Orlando Scandrick is a quality corner who may not be top tier, but is at least an average to above-average player. On the other side, Anthony Brown is also playing decently while the same can be said for nickel CB Jourdan Lewis.
The Cowboys have plenty of question marks in their secondary that can be exploited. If Julio is able to play, there’s no reason he can’t have a big game. This is a good match-up for the Falcons offense - they just need to take advantage of it.
Once again, we see on paper that the Falcons offense should have a favorable match-up. This is sounding like a broken record at this point. It’s going to come down to execution and planning. If this team continues to run Tevin Coleman up the middle for no gain, these match-ups will mean absolutely nothing. If, however, they can put together a game plan that resembles anything close to what we did in 2016, this could be a big bounceback for the offense.