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Falcons defense vs. Cowboys offense: Can Atlanta slow down Dak Prescott?

Uh, can we sign Adrian Clayborn for one game?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

After 8 games, we’re beginning to get a picture of who the 2021 Falcons are. They’re a growing offense that struggles against a good pass rush and a defense that you just can’t consistently rely on.

That’s a generous way of saying they’re bad. Is this matchup completely hopeless for the Falcons defense? Read on to find out.

In the trenches

If there’s one major weakness for this Falcons defense, it’s up front. Grady Jarrett is still playing well and he’s getting very little help. We did see James Vaughters have a very strong game against the Saints (including a strip sack), but betting on a player who was on the practice squad less than a month ago seems incredibly optimistic.

Likewise, Anthony Rush is now a permanent part of the 53-man roster and he did a good job of pushing the pocket against a solid Saints offensive line. All of that said, this is not a unit that inspires confidence. They get gashed by the run and they’re in the bottom 3 in sacks and sack percentage.

The Cowboys offensive line is normally an excellent one, but Dak Prescott was under constant pressure against the Broncos with Tyron Smith out. His status is still unclear for Sunday. If Terence Steele is out at left tackle again, that’s probably going to be the best opportunity for the Falcons to attack. Center Tyler Biadasz is also a potential weak link up the middle as a pass blocker, allowing 11 hurries in 8 games. Overall, this unit has given up 14 sacks on the year, though the mobility and pocket presence of Dak Prescott undoubtedly helps here.

It seems unlikely that the Falcons will be able to get pressure through guys like Zack Martin, La’el Collins or Connor Williams. Their best hope is that Tyron Smith isn’t available on Sunday. Even still, this Dallas offensive line is a stout unit and this poor Falcons defensive front will probably be unable to disrupt it regardless.

Advantage: Cowboys

The skill positions

The Falcons secondary has improved lately. They had nine pass breakups against the Saints, including three from A.J. Terrell, who is turning into one of the better corners in the league. Fabian Moreau has been much better in recent games after starting off poorly, even if he had his adventures against New Orleans. Safety Jaylinn Hawkins has really come on in his second season and is getting many snaps in big nickel sets.

Starting safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris have been hit or miss and they’re clearly not the long-term answers at their positions. Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun have the skills, but have been wildly inconsistent in their play this year, especially in coverage. There’s some talent in this unit, but it’s clear they still need a few pieces to be reliably good.

Dak Prescott is having a great year. In 7 games, he has 2045 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a passer rating of 108.7. The backfield combo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are incredibly dangerous not just as runners, but as receiving threats. CeeDee Lamb is averaging almost 80 yards per game and is backed by Amari Cooper and tight end Dalton Schultz to round out a very dangerous passing attack. They’ve scored 30 or more points 4 times this season and scored over 40 twice. This is a very dangerous unit.

As much as I love A.J. Terrell, he can’t do it alone. The only hope for Atlanta is for everyone in this defense to have the game of their lives. Otherwise, this one is a pretty lopsided matchup.

Advantage: Cowboys


If you’re surprised by this, I don’t know what to tell you. The Falcons defense is not good, can’t pressure the QB and has painful lapses in coverage outside of Terrell. Dallas is incredibly talented and oh yeah ... they’re going to be playing angry after losing a stinker to the Broncos.

We’d better hope the Falcons defense has the game of their lives, because this one has the makings of a disaster.

Advantage: Cowboys