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Cowboys vs. Falcons: “I expect Atlanta’s secondary to succumb to Dallas’ big play threats at wide receiver”

We get some info on the Falcons from people who know them best.

NFL: NOV 18 Cowboys at Falcons

With the Atlanta Falcons coming to town to take on the Dallas Cowboys, we wanted to talk to people who know the Falcons the best. So we slipped five questions to the fine folks at The Falcoholic about the upcoming game.

Blogging The Boys: It looked like the Falcons secondary was a big issue last week. Tell us what is going on back there.

The Falcoholic: Atlanta’s secondary is a major point of weakness on defense this season. The youth and inexperience of the CB group reared its ugly head against Russell Wilson in Week 1. Isaiah Oliver has shown some flashes but heading into year 3, he’s yet to live up to the second round selection the Falcons invested in him. A.J. Terrell was the team’s first rounder this year and is the other starter but even after a strong Training Camp the team seemed reluctant to utilize him much in Week 1, having him cover David Moore for most of the game. The team’s fastest defensive player, Kendall Sheffield, missed the game due to the injury but I wouldn’t have expected him to make much of a difference. Overall, Wilson was the only QB in the league to not have to attempt a tight-window throw in Week 1. I’m expecting the unit to have a lot of trouble keeping up with Dallas’ wide receiving corps, which is much better than Seattle’s.

BTB: Todd Gurley played his first game as a Falcon. How did he look and how was the run game overall?

TF: Gurley looked very spry in his first game as a Falcon, especially in the first quarter. I won’t say he was at his 2017/2018 All-Pro level, but he had a healthy 4.0 yards per attempt and he created something out of nothing on a 1-yard plunge into the endzone for the team’s first score of the season. He was especially effective on outside zone runs early on but for some reason offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter completely abandoned that approach after initial success.

The run game was fine overall, with each running back averaging 4.0 ypc, but the team had to abandon the run early in the second half after Seattle jumped out to a three-score lead, leading to 54 passing attempts from Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s running backs only combined for 18 total carries. I think they would have been much more effective had the team stuck with outside zone runs, and I hope they won’t abandon that approach in the future.

BTB: In the past the Falcons have had issues protecting Matt Ryan. How well did they do on Sunday?

TF: Ryan got sacked twice on Sunday and was under pressure a number of times, but that came as a result of many Jamal Adams blitzes which were just not accounted/adjusted for. The offensive line did more than a solid job in pass protection, with every player on it but center Alex Mack grading out with a 70+ pass pro grade per PFF, but the lack of adjustment in bringing extra protection against the blitz did the offense in somewhat. I’d expect those kinds of mental errors to get cleaned up as we further along in the season, but the play of the offensive line overall was very encouraging as far as keeping Ryan upright goes.

BTB: It looks like fourth-down plays were critical on offense and defense for Atlanta. Talk about the Falcons approach there and how it affected the game.

TF: The Falcons went 0-4 on 4th down in Week 1, and they were forced into an aggressive approach given how poorly the defense was playing and how far behind they were in the second half. There were three failed conversions where the offense couldn’t move the sticks and one was a fake punt which worked but resulted in a fumble. The Seahawks scored 24 points overall directly after the failed conversions (three touchdowns and a field goal), completely punishing Atlanta for each failed conversion. Analytics dictated that going for it each of those times was the right thing to do, so I can’t fault the decisions made by the coaching staff but the execution was completely unsatisfactory.

BTB: What adjustment do you expect for this game and how do you think the game will play out?

TF: I’d expect the Falcons to try and approach this game in a similar way the Rams did in Week 1, focusing on establishing an effective run game to neutralize Dallas’ formidable pass rushers and to try and win the time of possession battle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of the run early and often, looking to get into manageable situations on third downs. I would expect quite a bit of play action incorporated as well to try and use the big play threat of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley when possible. The worst thing Atlanta can do is get too predictable and let Demarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen tee off on Ryan.

I’m not worried about Atlanta’s offense in this game, and the Falcons have surprisingly always been stout against the run, but I expect Atlanta’s secondary to succumb to Dallas’ big play threats at wide receiver, especially with an experienced quarterback like Dak Prescott throwing them the ball. I’m expecting a shootout and I’m expecting a Dallas victory, behind the strength of the passing attack, at the end of it all.

Thanks to The Falcoholic for the knowledge.

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