The Falcons offense has too much talent to struggle against anything but the best defenses. Yet, that’s what they did against a Seattle unit that will likely be one of the worst pass rushing units in the league. Much of the struggle was self-inflicted, which should mean self-correction is entirely possible in week 2 against the Cowboys. This Cowboys defense, though, could be trouble. Let’s see how the units match up.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line was a mixed bag on Sunday. Jake Matthews and James Carpenter (!!!) both played well. The rest of the unit ... not so much. Alex Mack should bounce back. The bigger question is the young guys. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary actually did a good job of pass blocking, but were terrible in run blocking. Rookie Matt Hennessy - who shared snaps with Carpenter at LG - was the best pass blocker of the day, but also struggled in supporting the run. Right now, the unit looks like it’s better suited for protecting Ryan than it is for opening up holes for Todd Gurley. That may be the prescription they need against this formidable Cowboys defensive front.
The Cowboys have a ton of talent in the trenches. Dontari Poe and Tyrone Crawford are good interior players that could challenge Mack, Lindstrom and Carpenter all day. The edge players are particularly scary with DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith all being capable pass rushers. While this unit didn’t play particularly well against the Rams, it’s hard to believe they’ll repeat that performance at home.
I believe Atlanta has improved their offensive line. Lindstrom and McGary already look better than they did as rookies and we may legitimately have something in Hennessy. Yet, this Cowboys front is scary loaded with talent. The specific match ups for McGary and Matthews make me uncomfortable and I have to give the edge to Dallas for now.
The skill positions
For the first time in a while, Matt Ryan had a really good first game of the season. Of all the reasons the Falcons struggled in week 1, he was near the bottom of the list of problems. Interestingly, Atlanta had 3 - 100 yard receivers against a good Seahawks secondary (yes, I know they went into prevent), which could bode well against this Cowboys unit. Julio Jones is still elite, but what’s remarkable is that Calvin Ridley was the highest scored (per PFF) of the bunch. He also brought in the only 2 passing touchdowns. The emergence of Russell Gage could be the big factor here, as he got the same number of targets and receptions as Jones and Ridley, suggesting Matt Ryan likes what he has to offer. Hayden Hurst had a few nice plays but was mostly a non factor. His role should increase over time, and this game is a prime opportunity for it. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley looked good early but disappeared in the second half as the game got out of hand.
The loss of Leighton Vander Esch is going to hurt, especially since Sean Lee is already on IR. Jaylon Smith will be counted on heavily on Sunday and while he’s a good player, this LB unit is depleted. This offers a prime opportunity for Gurley and Hurst. Cowboys safeties Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson are a good pairing, but they have a tough task ahead of them. The corners are a mixed bag, with Chidobe Awuzie being the best of the bunch and a good player. Second round pick Trevon Diggs has a tough assignment no matter who he matches up with and Anthony Brown could be in for a long day at the nickel spot. This is a unit missing some key players.
Honestly, Atlanta should dominate here. The linebacking corps is wrecked with injuries and the corners are going to struggle against the likes of Jones and Ridley, with Gage suddenly being a dangerous option as well. They better hope the defensive front can bounce back. Otherwise, Atlanta gets a huge nod here.
Yet again, this is going to come down to protecting Ryan. If they do, the Falcons should be able to pick up a boatload of yards in the air. That’s a big if, though, and Atlanta needs to be ready to do what it takes to keep the QB clean. The potential is certainly there for the Falcons to bounce back offensively, and the injuries in the Cowboys linebacker unit give me just enough confidence to give the Falcons a slight edge overall.