Dave Choate: How does one stop Ezekiel Elliott from running all over one’s defense? Asking for a friend.
RJ Ochoa: The Cowboys are going to try and run the ball, then they’ll try again… and then again. It’s what they do. If you want to stop them, and Zeke, from getting busy, you have to do a few things. One, you have to get numbers to the play side of the ball. Zeke can cutback, but it’s not his bread-and-butter, he wants to stay with the blocking scheme on a play and wait for the hole to open. Defenses need to get numbers to that side of the ball, because if they don’t the hole will eventually open and Zeke will be off. Second, guess right. The Cowboys have some real tendencies and cues as to when they are going to run the ball. The Falcons defense needs to have studied that all week and trust their keys to the running game. If wide receiver Noah Brown is in the game and motions inside behind the tight end, it’s 95% a run is coming. Atlanta has to know those and be ready.
Finally, get a big lead. The Falcons offense is prolific, especially at home, so get a lead and force the Cowboys to pass.
Dave Choate: The numbers say Dak hasn’t been quite as sharp this year. How is he really doing, and had the addition of Amari Cooper helped at all?
RJ Ochoa: For the beginning part of the year, there is no doubt he wasn’t sharp. He was holding the ball too long, not trusting his arm and letting it fly, and seeing ghosts in the pocket and scrambling when he didn’t need to. He just didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. Over the last month, things started to improve, he still occasionally holds the ball too long or runs himself into a sack, but his passing has been sharper. And yes, the addition of Amari Cooper has greatly changed the offense. Third-down conversion percentage is up, Dak’s accuracy numbers are up, the other receivers are seeing more opportunity. Cooper’s numbers haven’t been overwhelming (they’ve been pretty good) but he has done a lot in converting third downs and his presence is drawing attention and opening up the field. Everything in the passing game is working better.
Dave Choate: The offensive line has been a huge strength for Dallas for years now, but the Falcons caught you at a good time last season. Is it still a strength, and where might an awful Falcons pass rush find some success?
RJ Ochoa: The Cowboys offensive line has been on a roller-coaster ride over the past couple of seasons. In the second half of last year, the whole thing kind of collapsed starting with the game in Atlanta. Tyron Smith’s health was a problem, and this year Travis Frederick has been out and the new rookie left guard has been up and down. The Cowboys also changed offensive line coaches over the offseason, and the new coach, Paul Alexander, had some wildly different techniques he’s used in his career. The veteran Cowboy linemen never seemed to take to them and the play of Smith and La’el Collins dropped off. It kind of created a mess. The Cowboys fired Alexander over the bye and vowed to get back to their old ways of doing things. The first week against Tennessee it was okay, but last week they dominated a very good defensive line in Philadelphia. They kind of looked like their old selves. Also, rookie guard Connor Williams was out with injury and veteran Xavier Su’a-Filo took over and played great. They will likely stick with that lineup again this week.
Dave Choate: LVE: How good? Besides Lawrence and Irving up front, who else should the Falcons fear?
RJ Ochoa: Well, you won’t have to fear David Irving, he is likely out with an ankle injury. Besides Lawrence, there isn’t one guy to fear, but the Cowboys do a good job creating pressure with the rest of the pieces like Tyrone Crawford, a resurgent Randy Gregory who finally played well last week, and guys like Maliek Collins if healthy. They do this mostly through a lot of stunts and twists and other things that throw the blocking scheme off. Also, a blitzing Jaylon Smith from the linebacker spot can be tough to deal with, he has a knack for disrupting things. The Cowboys defensive line is really banged up right now, so it will be interesting to see if they can create the kind of pressure they need to on Matt Ryan.
As for LVE, he’s been sensational. He’s got all the tools you want in a linebacker. He has size, he has an instinct for where the ball is going, he’s got mobility to run sideline-to-sideline and when he gets to the runner he rarely misses the tackle. The Cowboys faithful were definitely split about the drafting of LVE when it happened, but no more. The guy looks like a stud on the field. He can also cover pretty well so he’s a three-down ‘backer.
Dave Choate: Who wins this one, and can Dallas steal the NFC East?
RJ Ochoa: Last week, I and a lot of other Cowboys fans were ready to give up on the season. Then on Sunday night the team finally played like we thought they would the whole year. The run game was dominating, Amari Cooper’s presence is working, and the defense continues to play really well. So there is a new hope in Dallas. We’re believing again so I’m rolling with the Cowboys in this one. Hopefully Dallas can run the ball, win time of possession and limit the damage the Falcons offense can inflict on them. The Cowboys defense will do just enough to hold Ryan and Co. from blowing things out.
The Cowboys can definitely win the NFC East. They are two games behind Washington but play them on Thanksgiving Day. So win that one and you are back in business. Especially with the injuries Washington has suffered on their offensive line. But, none of that will mean much if the Cowboys drop the game on Sunday versus Atlanta.