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Falcons defense vs. Cowboys offense: Can the birds bounce back in Dallas?

After a disastrous start at home, will the defense fair any better on the road?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re reading this and laughing to yourself, you’re not alone. The Atlanta defense could not slow down the Seahawks in their own house - how are they going to do on the road against a front runner to win the NFC East? Putting aside the first game disaster, the Falcons may match up better with the Cowboys than you’d think. Let’s take a look at how these two units compare.

In the trenches

The Falcons finally got a picture of what their defensive front could look like against the Seahawks. Granted, Seattle doesn’t have the best offensive line in football, but Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler Jr. and especially Takk McKinley all consistently got into the backfield in week 1. Had the QB not been Russell Wilson, the unit probably would have had double the sacks. This same group, however, did not fair particularly well against the run - which is a bad omen when you’re going up against Ezekiel Elliott. In total, this unit looked better in the pass rush but they have got to improve their run defense or it could be a long afternoon in Dallas.

The Cowboys offensive line is not the elite unit it once was. Tyron Smith at LT and Zack Martin at RG are still two of the best at their positions. Past that, however, the quality falls off dramatically. The downgrade from Travis Frederick to Joe Looney is substantial and Connor Williams at LG is another mostly meh player. It’s hard to know how good/bad Terence Steele is going to be at RT, but his first game in week 1 was not a good one.

While Smith and Aldon are still great players, they are no longer surrounded by similar levels of talent. The loss of La’el Collins at RT could be the big story on Sunday. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but this is an offensive line the Falcons front four can and should take advantage of.

Advantage: Falcons

The skill positions

Once you get outside the front four, the Falcons quality becomes quite spotty. Deion Jones is a stud in the middle of the defense. Foye Oluokun is serviceable next to him. Corners Isaiah Oliver and rookie A.J. Terrell are young and physically gifted, but they were terrible in week 1. Darqueze Dennard was brought in to stabilize the nickel corner position, but he was bad as well. Damontae Kazee - the only safety to play all defensive snaps - played fairly well, while Ricardo Allen struggled mightily and Keanu Neal was clearly easing back into action. The talent is there, and guys like Allen and Dennard should bounce back, but week 1 was a referendum on the terrible play of this unit.

For Dallas, it starts with Dak Prescott. While not a true running QB, he does have the ability to extend the pocket (uh oh) and make plays happen. Behind him is one of the best running backs in the league in Ezekiel Elliott (also uh oh). On the outside, Amari Cooper never lived up to being “the next Julio Jones,” but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good receiver. He should give Terrell or Oliver a hard time. Michael Gallup is beginning to come into his own as a WR2, but he’s not intimidating anybody just yet. Rookie CeeDee Lamb could be a wild card for this unit. The tight end situation is bad, with Blake Jarwin out with an ACL injury in week 1. The next guy up is ... Dalton Schultz?

To be blunt, the Falcons secondary doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. With Prescott being a QB who can buy time in the pocket, this feels like another bad matchup for Atlanta. They had better bounce back significantly, or we may be in for another big headache.

Advantage: Cowboys

Overall

This game is going to come down to the Falcons pass rush. If they can repeat what they did in week 1, they could keep the score from getting out of hand. Dallas has some good weapons, but the receivers are nowhere near as talented overall as what Seattle offered. Yet, this Falcons secondary is a true wildcard. If they give another week 1 performance, Atlanta is in trouble. They should be able to do better (on paper), but confidence is perilously low. This feels like a push, with the potential to swing wildly in the Cowboys favor.

Advantage: Push