The Atlanta Falcons have an opportunity to prove they’re a true contender in Week 9. With a primetime matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, everyone will be watching to see if this team is worthy of its undefeated record.
At a perfect 7-0, the Falcons look to keep their undefeated record in tact. The Cowboys seems to always bring flaws to the table, but there’s no denying the talent on their roster. Even after throwing four interceptions last week, Tony Romo and his offense nearly managed to make a remarkable comeback on the reigning Super Bowl champs.
It doesn’t look like anyone is calling Atlanta the underdog this week, but this won’t be a walkover for the only undefeated team in the league. Let’s take a look at what you need to watch for from the Falcons on Sunday night.
1) Matt Ryan vs. Dallas secondary: The Cowboys are giving up just 187.7 passing yards per game, good enough for third overall in the league. Ryan is on a roll this season with a quarterback rating of 103.0. He dominated the Eagles secondary last week, but he faces arguably his toughest test of the season in Week 9. Rookie defensive back Morris Claiborne is currently rated a 3.6 in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus, and while he is only allowing 10.8 yards per catch, opposing quarterbacks are having great success against him with a total passer rating of 110.6. He’ll likely line up against Julio Jones, so Matt Ryan needs to keep connecting on those deep passes similar to the 63-yard touchdown he completed in Philadelphia. Ryan’s case for MVP will win over many with a strong showing on Sunday night.
2) How will the workload be divided in the backfield: Michael Turner appeared unhappy with his playing time before the Falcons bye week. So what they do? Atlanta decided to give Turner 24 carries against the Eagles, which resulted in a total of just 58 yards. A 2.4 yards per carry average isn’t going to cut it. Jacquizz Rodgers racked up 60 yards on eight carries in Philadelphia, breaking off a 43-yard run at one point and looking like a much better option compared to Turner. Surely the Falcons aren’t ready to give up on No. 33, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Quizz and possibly Jason Snelling become more involved running the ball. The Cowboys possess a middle-of-the-road run defense, so the Falcons need to pick up the momentum on the ground to take some pressure off Ryan.
3) Which Julio Jones will we see: In four road games this season Jones compiled 26 receptions for 392 yards and five touchdowns. However, in the three games he’s played at the Georgia Dome he only has nine receptions for 107 yards without any scores. As we saw against Carolina, defenses will do whatever they can to take Jones out of the game, leaving Roddy White with a chance to tear apart opposing secondaries. If Claiborne stays on Jones, he needs to play aggressively and work the sidelines well. Claiborne is a physical corner, but Jones has the ability to beat him downfield.
4) Taking away the run game: DeMarco Murray will not play in Week 9, which is a positive note for the Falcons. They’ll now face a banged up Felix Jones and possibly an ample mix of Phillip Tanner, depending on Jones’ status, which is usually poor. Jones seems to find a way to develop a new injury each week, so Tanner might be seeing more action. Either way, the Falcons need to shut down the Cowboys ground game and force Tony Romo to throw often. Atlanta kept LeSean McCoy in check last week, and now with the development of Mike Nolan’s “Big Tackle Three”, we can expect more penetration into the backfield and fewer big runs.
5) Containing Jason Witten: Last Sunday Witten set a record for most receptions by a tight end. After seeing his 18-catch performance with the Cowboys in comeback mode, the Falcons are surely planning to slow him down this weekend. With Sean Weatherspoon out, Akeem Dent will take over his nickel package duties. While Stephen Nicholas looks to be the man marking Witten in coverage, other defenders will need to step up. Thomas DeCoud and Williams Moore will have to be ready to keep Witten from racking up catches once again. Romo constantly looks for his tight end when under pressure. The Falcons can’t let him take over.