Things are kind of desperate for the Dallas Cowboys heading into their tilt with the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Losing this game and dropping to 3-5 would come perilously close to meaning the playoffs are not happening in 2012. Winning and reaching 4-4 means you're still scrapping your way along, and any kind of winning streak puts you square in the thick of things.
So what are the keys to winning on Sunday night?
1) Small ball on offense. The Falcons defense is soft against the run. The Falcons corners are not physical, press corners. The defensive line is an aggressive, pass-rushing group. The defense lives off of turnovers. That kind of opposition screams for small ball. Run the ball, but let's give Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar some looks, too. Early on, Garrett should utilize all three backs (including Felix Jones) in an attempt to find one who is productive on the day. Utilize your receivers as a running game, get them on slants and crosses where they can catch the ball on the move and create YAC. Utilize screens, draws and other deceptive plays to cross-up the pass rush. Once you establish that, Atlanta will have to creep up to stop the run and underneath passing, opening up bigger plays.
2) Sean Weatherspoon's absence means that Jason Witten should see another day much like the one against the Giants. When the Cowboys start using Witten as a de facto running game, meaning hitting him repeatedly with 5-8 yard passes underneath, they chew up yards on offense. Its doubtful Weatherspoon's replacement will be able to contain Witten. Ride the man all day long. Eventually, if the Falcons nudge a safety up in the box to deal with Jason, then Dallas finally has an opportunity to go over the top.
3) The front seven of Dallas have to move Matt Ryan out of the pocket. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are having good seasons, but having to deal with Roddy White and Julio Jones is a very tough assignment. Then you throw in Tony Gonzalez against inside linebackers not named Sean Lee, and it's going to be a long night. The Falcons are not a great running team, so Dallas should be thinking pass rush. Even with an improved secondary, they will not be able to cover all of Atlanta's weapons for more than a few seconds. Dallas must win this game with its pass rush. If Ryan has a clean pocket, the odds of winning approach nil. The most likely heroes are DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, but if Anthony Spencer or Jason Hatcher can create pressure, too, then Dallas could grab themselves a road win.