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Falcons - Cowboys: One reason to feel confident and one reason to worry

Once again, the opposing passing game is striking fear into our hearts, but at least the Falcons pass rush is looking promising.

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NFL: NOV 18 Cowboys at Falcons

Last week, I posited that the Falcons would probably have plenty of success through the air, but that Russell Wilson could destroy them more or less by himself. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out—it probably didn’t even take a drunk model rocket assembler—but the Falcons did in fact pass for plenty of yards and Wilson did in fact destroy Atlanta.

The dispiriting thing was that the passing yards on Atlanta’s side were a bit empty, given that the bulk of the production came when Seattle was too far ahead for the Falcons do really do anything about it. The even more dispiriting thing was that the need to stop Wilson was obvious, and yet Atlanta couldn’t get close to doing so.

This team has some work ahead of it, in other words, especially when they travel to face the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow. Here’s one thing I’m feeling confident about as a major factor for the Falcons, and one thing I’m very worried about for the game ahead.

Feel confident in the pass rush getting home

Don’t do a spit take, I really just typed this.

The Cowboys let Dak Prescott face pressure on 19 dropbacks in Week 1, the second-highest total of the week per Pro Football Focus.

Most of that pressure came up the middle—Aaron Donald is a problem—but Connor Williams and Zack Martin both struggled, and Atlanta can bring Grady Jarrett and friends up the middle in their own right. Terrence Steele will have to start at right tackle again, and he’s no one’s idea of a top-shelf pass protector. That offensive line scuffling for a unit that is typically one of the very best in football would be a concern if Atlanta was still incapable of getting to the passer, but last week showed us they’re quite capable.

Against Seattle, the Falcons came up with multiple sacks and 12 pressures for a nearly 31% pressure rate on the afternoon, per Pro Football Reference. It’s easy to forget this now, but that pressure nearly destroyed two productive Seattle drives, but secondary mishaps ruined that. The Cowboys are unlikely to suddenly get massively better along their offensive line, either way, and for once the Falcons are likely to string together a couple of quality efforts getting after the quarterback.

Of course, that won’t matter that much if the secondary isn’t up to snuff.

Worry about this Dallas passing attack

Russell Wilson completed all but four passes in Week 1, all four being misses with DK Metcalf, who still had a killer day. We can quibble about how good Dak Prescott is compared to Russell Wilson and the caliber of weapons on both offenses, but the upshot is that Dallas is perfectly capable of putting that kind of effort up against the Falcons if the gameplan and secondary play is as terrible as it was against Seattle.

I’d like to have a different, more creative thing to worry about, but there’s no point in getting cute here. Prescott was among the league’s most accurate passers last year, as I noted yesterday, and he has a receiving corps that features Amari Cooper (10 grabs in Week 1, albeit a paltry 8.1 yards per reception), gifted rookie CeeDee Lamb (5 grabs, 59 yards), and Michael Gallup (3 receptions, 50 yards). Nobody had a particularly eye-popping day against the Rams, sure, but this is an efficient passing attack that can punish Atlanta even without a compelling option at tight end. Remember, Russell Wilson did not throw a single pass into tight coverage a week ago, and that included bombs downfield to DK Metcalf and short passes that Chris Carson made something of. The Cowboys can certainly use Ezekiel Elliott to great effect, as well.

There’s no question that stopping Prescott and company will signal the Falcons defense is learning something, because this is another terrific test for a secondary that just failed one. It could get very ugly if Morris can’t get his young corners, in particular, ready to go.