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Cowboys @ Falcons: Expect Dallas to run the ball even without Ezekiel Elliott

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Can the Falcons defense contend with the Cowboys running game?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys travel to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday without Ezekiel Elliott, you can bet they will try to establish their running game anyway. It’s just what this team is on offense, they want to run the ball to control the clock, wear down opposing defenses and keep their own defense fresh. The good news for the Cowboys is the Falcons are not exactly a standout defense in stopping the running game.

The Falcons rank a middling 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (114.5), and a bad 23rd ranking in yards per attempt (4.2). If the Falcons give up over 100 yards rushing in a game this year, they usually lose. You can bet the Cowboys offense is going to test that run defense all game long.

And it’s not just the running backs. Last week, Cam Newton tortured the Falcons with his legs. From the Falcoholic:

Yet for all that pressure, the Falcons were unable to track Newton when he took the football down to run, and they were utterly incapable of slowing the ground game for the Panthers except when Jonathan Stewart toted the rock. Newton ran 9 times for 86 yards and a touchdown, Christian McCaffrey rolled up 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, and the Panthers got 49 yards combined on 11 carries from a motley combination of backs and wide receivers. That is over 200 yards on the ground, and in a game where both of Carolina’s rushing touchdowns and about two-thirds of their offense came via the run, that was incredibly costly.

Dallas had to watch that game tape and realize that Dak Prescott could replicate it.

The Falcons pass defense is pretty decent in terms of limiting volume stats. One thing they do not do well is intercept the ball, they only have two on the year. And while they don’t have an overwhelming amount of penalties, the kind they get are costly.

Per The Football Database, Atlanta ranks in the top five this season for most committed penalties in the areas of unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, and defensive holding.

Two guys who you really want to get blocked on the Falcons defense are Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett. Jones, a linebacker, leads the team in tackles (71) and is all over the field, including in pass coverage. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett can be a disruptive force from the middle, he wrecked the Jets a couple of weeks ago.

Other guys to watch include safety Keanu Neal, and pass rushers Vic Beasley, Jr. and a guy we talked a lot about during the offseason previous to the draft, Takkarist McKinley. Here’s ESPN on McKinley so far:

Takkarist McKinley, DE, first round: McKinley's explosive burst is evident after every snap, but he's learned quickly that you can't just beat the opponent with a bull rush. McKinley had two sacks, a forced fumble, four tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in 212 defensive snaps played.

One other area the Falcons are struggling in is special teams. Kicker Matt Bryant is hurt this week and his status in unclear. In addition, the Falcons average the worst starting position of any team in the NFL.

Stat Corner Falcons Defense

—- 12th in yards allowed per game (321.8), 10th in passing yards allowed per game (207.3), 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (114.5), 14th in points allowed per game (21.5)

—- 15th in stopping third down conversions (38.5%), 7th in yards allowed per passing attempt (6.6), 18th in sacks (18), 23rd in yards allowed per rushing attempt (4.2)

Conclusion:

The Falcons are an average defense, but they are not particularly explosive in terms of splash plays and turnovers. They do not do a great job against the run, something the Cowboys are likely to exploit all game long. Dak Prescott might have a big running game on Sunday. They do not pressure the passer that well, and it won’t be better this game as Dallas does a great job at protecting Prescott. They are pretty good at limiting other team’s passing game. Expect Dallas to just pound the ball until the Falcons can prove they can stop it.