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Falcons pass rush could wreak havoc upon a depleted Cowboys OL in Week 2

The retooled defensive line of the Falcons looked like the best part of the defense in Week 1. Atlanta could have another opportunity to shine against a Cowboys offensive line that could be down multiple starters on Sunday.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Week 2, and the Falcons (0-1) are already facing what is arguably a “must-win” game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys (0-1). That’s never a great place to be this early in the season, but it’s a familiar place for an Atlanta team that’s started each of the past three seasons with a losing record. On the positive side, at least they weren’t down 28-0 in the third quarter like they were in 2019!

Yes, Week 1’s loss to the Seahawks sucked. It was all-too-familiar for Falcons fans. But in truth, there were a few positive takeaways from the game. The run defense actually played well against a tough Seattle ground game, and for the first time in ages, the pass rush was actually effective! Atlanta put up 3.0 sacks on Sunday and pressured Wilson on over 30% of his dropbacks—good for 4th most in the league.

It’s true that Wilson has taken a lot of sacks over the years, and Seattle’s offensive line is arguably among the worst in the league in pass protection. So perhaps Week 1’s explosive outing could be “fool’s gold”. Can Atlanta’s defensive line continue their hot streak against the Cowboys, who were once known for having best OL in the NFL?

The answer is: absolutely, but not because the offensive line is a strength for Dallas. It’s actually quite the opposite: the Cowboys still have some talented players up front (Zack Martin remains one of the best guards in football), but they have been absolutely ravaged by injuries early in the season. Center Travis Frederick was forced to retire before the season due to health reasons, and RT La’el Collins was put on IR to start the season.

Compounding those losses, swing tackle Cameron Erving was also lost to IR during Week 1’s game, forcing UDFA Terence Steele into the lineup. It also seems like LT Tyron Smith sustained a neck injury during practice this week, as he did not participate in practice on Thursday or Friday. Smith is officially questionable heading into Sunday’s game, but his absence would leave the Cowboys incredibly short-handed at OT. If Smith were to miss the game, it looks like another former UDFA, Brandon Knight, would be the only other OT available on the roster.

Even if Smith manages to play, there’s a tremendous opportunity for the Falcons pass rush to continue their strong start. Steele managed just a 49.8 overall PFF grade in Week 1 and gave up a sack, making him a clear target for both Takkarist McKinley and Dante Fowler. LG Connor Williams was victimized by the Rams DTs last weekend, grading out as just a 49.5 overall, showing that he could be vulnerable to a matchup with Grady Jarrett.

Constant pressure on Dak Prescott might be the only way to prevent the Cowboys from putting on a show on offense. Atlanta’s new-look secondary was mostly a disaster against Seattle, and Dallas has even better weapons at WR in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb. Prescott isn’t quite as adept at evading pressure as Wilson, so consistent disruption might also be more detrimental to the offense’s performance. The Falcons will also need their strong play against the run to continue, or the pass rush might not matter much.

All in all, this is a difficult matchup defensively for Atlanta. Let’s hope they can at least slow down the Cowboys attack, and that Dirk Koetter can call an offensive gameplan that is just as effective at scoring points as it is at generating yardage.