The Dallas Cowboys face a daunting task this Sunday. The SNF showdown against the Falcons is almost the entire Cowboys season wrapped into 4 hours: If Dallas wins, they will be 4-4 at the half season mark with the hardest part of their schedule almost done and suddenly, a good shot at a wild card game. They will be revived with a road win over an undefeated team and the NFL will start to take them seriously again. They will make some noise and become a legitimate threat that will have the ability to beat any team, any given week. If they lose however, they will fall to 3-5 with games against the Steelers, Bengals, Saints, Redskins and Eagles coming up, which could pretty much put them in hole and end their season. Odds are all against Dallas:
1) They are on the road
2) They are coming off a loss at home
3) They are facing an undefeated team
4) They are without their star middle linebacker
5) They are without a starting safety
6) They are without the starting center
7) They will most likely be without their starting running back.
Wow. Looks ugly, huh? Well, the truth is, these are disadvantages that can all be overcome. IM SAYING IT. I BELIEVE THAT DESPITE A LOSING RECORD WITHOUT SOME IMPACT PLAYERS AND ON THE ROAD, DALLAS WILL COME OUT WITH A WIN. I have a gut feeling that Dallas will win and rejuvenate some of that fire they began in week 1. Here's a preview and an honest prediction of what I think will happen.
Morris Claiborne vs Julio Jones: The entire game will balance of two aspects: Dallas pass defense against the Falcons electric pass offense, and Tony Romo finishing drives by scoring, not giving up the ball. Morris Claiborne has been a lockdown corner so far. In 7 games, he has allowed just 20 completions. That is the equivalent of keeping a starting wide receiver to less than 3 catches per game. He has done this against the likes of Hakeem Nicks (2x), Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, and Torrey Smith. Look for him to continue this trend against Julio Jones. Jones is incredibly fast and has scary deep play skills, but no wide receivers can get around every corner. Julio Jones is having a great season, but it will stop here, as Claiborne continues to justify his first round selection and make Cowboys Nation even happier and happier with the sacrifice to nab him.
Brandon Carr vs Roddy White: Brandon Carr will have a tough assignment in this game. Roddy White knows how to run routes and is still one of the leagues best receivers. He has an incredible quarterback feeding him the ball. As good a job in defense Claiborne and Carr have done, Carr will not be able to shutdown White. White won't explode, but Carr has seen better days. At least Jones will be contained by Claiborne.
Bruce Carter vs Tony Gonzalez: Bruce Carter is no Sean Lee, and the Cowboys might hurt for that. But not in this game. Gonzalez is one of the greatest tight ends to play the game, and at 36, he's still going. But at 36, he doesn't possess that same speed. I think Carter does enough to keep him quiet most of the night with his speed and athleticism. Gonzalez has the experience to get around him a bit, but save for a couple plays where Carter slips, I think Carter has a good day here in pass coverage.
Tony Romo vs ATL Pass defense: Tony Romo is having a terrible season so far. He has thrown 14 INT's and the Cowboys are not even done with half their games. Romo has been a pick machine, throwing 5 to the Bears (Although I really only put 1 of those on him) and handed out 4 last week to the Giants. Romo has a simple trend: 11 INT's in 4 losses, and 3 INT's in 3 wins. The key is for Romo to now give up more than 1 INT here, and the Boys should be able to win. Although Romo is having a tough season, I think he scrapes himself off the sidewalk this week and delivers some great play against a number 10 ranked pass defense.
Dallas Game Plan: Dallas needs to stop the pass attack that ATL will like to use. ATL is not having a good season rushing the ball, and have looked to pass plenty times. Dallas has been stud in pass defense, giving up less than 190 yards per game. If Dallas is able to continue that trend and keep Jones and White contained, Mike Smith will have to find a balance between a struggling run and pass game against a tough defense. Teams win by creating mismatches that opposing coaches can't solve, and if Dallas locks down on pass defense the way they have been, Dallas could have a very good chance to win.
Atlanta Game Plan: Atlanta needs to get turnovers. Their offense will not function the way it has been, and the defense will need to step up. If the ATL offense is faced with long fields, they will have a hard time staying ahead. They need to force Romo into INT's so they can have short fields to score with.
Quarter by Quarter:
Q1 Atlanta will start with the ball and be faced with a wall of a defense from the start. Atlanta will not be prepared as Turner starts the game with a 2 yard carry and Ryan goes 1/2 and only 6 yards. 3 and out. Dallas takes the ball looking to start hot. They have a great chance to take the lead. Dallas has a good drive down inside the ATL 30. Then Dallas frustrates fans: they can't get touchdowns. Romo throws an incomplete pass, Jones has a short run, Romo gets sacked by a ferocious pass rush, and the Cowboys come away with just a field goal. Atlanta gets the ball looking to run more than 3 plays and they do. Matt Ryan drives down the field to the opposite side of the 50. Then, Ware makes a big play and sacks him. 2 plays later, the Falcons are facing 4th down just outside of field goal range and punt the ball, pinning Dallas inside the 10. Dallas converts their first set of downs, but then they get stopped and punt the ball as well.
Q2 The Falcons are waiting to score. Matt Ryan takes a quick drive into the redzone. He throws into the redzone twice but fails to come up with a TD. On 3rd and 10, the Dallas defense gets pressure on him and brings him down again. The Falcons come off with a field goal to tie the game 3-3. Tony Romo takes the field with confidence this time. Dallas offense starts running high power and after a long drive with passes galore, Dallas is inside the ATL 10. after a couple runs to set up 3rd and short. Romo fakes a run, then finds Jason Witten in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. Dallas takes a 10-3 lead. The Falcons struggling offense takes the field with the second quarter mostly over. The Falcons offense has some trouble, but converts 3 times on 3rd downs on this drive alone. They get inside the Cowboys 30 with just about 20 seconds and a timeout left. Ryan gets a good pass, but ultimately, Dallas forces a tackle inbounds and Atlanta has to use their last timeout and be satisfied with a field goal. The game goes into halftime with Dallas leading 10-6.
Q3 Dallas returns the opening kickoff with the lead. It is the perfect opportunity to take a 2 score lead on a team that could bite any second. Dallas understands the threat of a thin lead and attack with some swagger. They outdo the defense as Romo takes the Boys' into the redzone before finding Miles Austin in the endzone over the top. Dallas takes a 17-6 lead and is getting in position to take home the franchises 5th topple of an undefeated team past 4-0. Atlanta has other ideas, as they do not want to end their undefeated streak against a 3-4 team in their own stadium, so they come out with some attitude. Matt Ryan and Co. get past a stunned defense to quickly shut up the smiling Cowboys' sideline with a Michael Turner touchdown. The Falcons are right back with only a 4 point trail as Dallas takes the field trying to make something of a 17-13 lead. Well, they don't. Dallas takes it inside the, set to take at least a touchdown lead, before Felix Jones fumbles the ball and the hungry Falcons pounce on it. Dallas immediately deflates, with losing the lead right in their face. Matt Ryan gets excited and begins pouring on some of the deep balls to his receivers. This is something the Dallas secondary has not been very exposed to: deep balls that they can make plays on. Dallas has been waiting a long time, and the gift arrives, as Morris Claiborne comes off with a deep interception that puts the attitude right back into Dallas. He doesn't return it, but Dallas has a short field to exploit. Romo drives his team down into scoring range, and right before the quarter ends, Felix Jones punches it in on a short carry. Dallas goes into the fourth quarter up 24-13.
Q4 Things are looking up for Dallas so far, as their offense is doing good, their defense is handling themselves appropriately against one of the leagues best passing games, and they have a comfortable 11 point lead with 15 minutes to play. Both teams exchange the ball a bit and it is relatively unexciting to see punts, but the last 3 minutes turn up the heat again. Faced with a 4th down. Atlanta has to go for it with about two and a half minutes left. Matt Ryan drops back but it hurried into a bad pass and Dallas forces a turnover. Dallas gets to aggressive with their passing, and the clock keeps stopping without ATL using any timeouts. Dallas takes a field goal and has a late 27-13 lead. Atlanta steps on to the field in a desperate mode. They use none of their timeouts, with miraculous time management and getting ob over and over, but on this drive, but with about 1 minute remaining in the game, Matt Ryan finds Tony Gonzalez open in the endzone for a touchdown. The game has been trimmed with Dallas leading by 7. Atlanta opts to go for the onside kick, which is recovered by Dallas. Dallas runs the first two plays, forcing the Falcons to use two timeouts. On 3rd and 5, out of field goal distance, Dallas elects to pass, trying to convert on 3rd down and put the game away. Austin, Bryant and WItten all get covered on the play, and Romo is forced to feed it to Ogletree near the sideline. It doesn't hit his chest like a perfect pass, but nonetheless, Ogletree pretty much drops another pass, this one that could have converted and won the game for Dallas. with about 45 seconds remaining, Dallas punts. It pins Atlanta right around their own 5 yard line. The Falcons have the ball, 40 seconds, 1 timeout, and a 95 yard field to work with to come up with a TD to force OT. Matt Ryan starts rolling good, but then around midfield, he is sacked. The Falcons use their final timeout with 20 seconds remaining. On the next play Ryan finds Roddy White for a long gain that puts them around the 25 yard line. However, White is unable to get out of bounds, and the Falcons come up quickly so spike it, leaving time for one play. The game seems to be in Dallas' favor here, as their already stud secondary has to just pull off one play where they don't allow 25 yards, and they will win. Ryan take the snap...he looks to his right...he looks to his left...he looks down the seam...Ware gets past blockers and rushes at him, 2 sacks already gathered on the night...Ryan breaks the pocket and rolls to the left...another block stalls Ware just a little longer...Hatcher breaks free of his man and rushes at Ryan...Ryan scrambles all the way to the sideline...Ware is behind, Hatcher is slowed down...Ryan stops, pumps back at the sideline...he throws the ball to the opposite side of the field, into the corner of the endzone for Roddy White...Clairborne is their, waiting for the jumpball...Carr comes running up from the middle of the endzone...Roddy and Mo leap up for the air battle...the ball closes in...this is it...Carr crosses in front of the two, one arm raised, and he leaps to bat the ball down...The ball comes lower...Roddy, Mo, and Carr continue to move upward...a glove touches the ball...Carr's glove. Carr tips the ball slightly to the side, and Roddy comes up empty. The Cowboys sideline goes insane as Mo and Carr jump up for the hip-bump. The Cowboys come over and continuously slap Carr on the helmet. Coaches and staff members and cameramen and reporters and lots of people who for some reason have to see the coaches shaking hands upfront rush onto the field. After congratulations, reporters interviewing Carr and other players, the Cowboys head into the locker room. They celebrate as the Falcons berate themselves. The Cowboys go home, happy to win against the NFL's best team, and begin to plan for what could be a playoff appearance.
Final Score: Dallas 27, Atlanta 20
Romo: 27/42, 305 yards, 2 TD
Jones: 16 carries, 50 yards, 1TD, 1 Fumble
Witten: 6 rec, 80 yards, 1TD
Austin: 6 rec, 80 yards, 1TD
Bryant: 8 rec, 110 yards
Claiborne: 2 tackles, 1 INT
Carr: 5 tackles, 1 pass defended
Ware: 6 tackles, 2 sacks
Ryan: 22/34, 220 yards, 1TD, 1INT
Turner: 22 carries, 90 yards, 1TD
White: 7 rec, 90 yards
Gonzalez: 8 rec,100 yards, TD
Jones: 4 rec, 50 yards