The Falcons, whose record is 4-4 heading into Sunday’s game, are currently third in the NFC South Division, but are only two games back from first-place. A win over the Cowboys would be a step in the right direction for this squad to turn their season around. With so few games separating the division at the half-way point in the season, every game is becoming crucial, and the Falcons need a victory to bounce back from the 20-17 defeat handed by their division rival Carolina Panthers last week.
Although most of the players from last year’s Super Bowl appearance team have returned, this Falcons team has not looked the same, especially offensively. Averaging just 21.2 points per game on the season, the Falcons offense has fallen far from the 33.8ppg averaged last season. The offense is led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who in his 10th NFL season has been inconsistent this season. With 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, the Falcons will need better protection of the football if they are going to be successful on Sunday and move above their .500 record on the season.
Ryan is surrounded offensively with weapons that can score at any time, but need to finally click to get the offense rolling like it did last season. The running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevon Coleman continues to be one of the best duos in the NFL, and will look to provide the spark the team needs on Sunday. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu possess big-play ability and will be called upon to do so against a Cowboys defense that has given up 14 passing touchdowns through eight games on the season.
First-year Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian spoke about the consistency he is looking for heading into the second-half of the season saying, “I think that’s something that we are really striving for heading into this game and into the second half of the season, that consistency regardless of the situation, whether it is a third-down situation, red zone, goal line, whatever that might be, our consistency in what we are doing, while we are doing it and then ultimately the execution of it.” The offense will need to find that consistency if they are going to finish the season and strong and return to the playoffs.
The Cowboys hold a record of 5-3 on the season thus far. Although they are currently second in the NFC Eastern Division, their path to the top is a bit more tedious. Sitting three games back from the first-place Eagles, the Cowboys need to make up ground quickly if they are to overtake the first-place spot in the division at this point in the season.
The Cowboys’ offense is led by second-year quarterback Dak Prescott, who has made a name for himself in the NFL since taking over the starting job for Tony Romo last season. Prescott’s 16 touchdown passes to just four interceptions has been a key reason for the Cowboys success this season, and will look to continue that play on Sunday.
Surrounding Dak Prescott will be running-back Alfred Morris, who will get his first start of the season in the absence of star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Catching passes for the Cowboys will be star wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose four touchdowns of 20-yards or more shows the instant scoring threat that he is.
As of the writing of this piece, Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott will not play in this game and will be forced to start serving his six-game suspension which was supposed to start at the beginning of the season. Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was asked about preparing for whether or not Elliott would suit-up this week and he said, “As far as him playing, I’ll anticipate he’s playing until I’ve been told otherwise, I’ll go down that road until I hear otherwise.”
It will be interesting to see how this preparation effects both teams, with the Cowboys losing their star player with a suspension, and the Falcons not facing who they prepared for. We have seen, though, Elliott be able to delay the start of his suspension throughout the season thus far, and although his legal options are limited, Elliott not playing in this game is not a guarantee.
Both the Falcons and Cowboys have the play-makers on offense to make Sunday’s game a shootout. The key will be which defense can limit the big plays more to keep each offense out of the end zone.
Sunday’s contest between the Falcons and Cowboys will kick-off at 4:00 p.m. from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Fox.