DALLAS — The 2021 NFL season had been smooth sailing for the Dallas Cowboys before they hit rough waters in a Week 9 loss to the Denver Broncos. Coming off their worst loss on the year, the Cowboys will need to regroup with the caveat that some key players will be missing in this one.
The Atlanta Falcons are coming to town for a Week 10 showdown and Dallas will be without starters Tyron Smith at left tackle and defensive end Randy Gregory. The task of a bounce back victory got more difficult leading up to the contest, but injuries are a part of the game for all teams so the Cowboys can’t use absences as an excuse.
Here are four keys to beating the Falcons in the Week 10 showdown:
Pressure Matt Ryan
The Falcons don’t have the offensive weapons that they used to, but the veteran quarterback can still play at a high level. Ryan is playing well and has thrown for 15 touchdowns against just six interceptions this season.
Early in 2021, the Falcons weren’t allowing many defenses to get to Ryan and their offense ranks near the bottom of the league with just 14 sacks allowed.
However, six of those have come in the last three weeks as attempts at pressure have started to get to Ryan. The Dallas defense have had their issues with getting to the quarterback and top disrupter Gregory won’t be suiting up. If the Cowboys can pressure Ryan, it would go a long way toward winning the game.
Win the running game
The two teams are opposites when it comes to the rushing game. The Falcons are 29th in the league in rushing, averaging just over 80 yards per game. They also rank next to last in yards per carry (3.4) and rushing TDs (4).
Dallas, on the other hand, is one of the best rushing teams in football, ranking third in yards per game (142.8) and tied for third in yards per carry (4.9). Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard rank as one of the top RB tandems in the league and both have rushed for at least 60 yards in the same game four times this season.
As far as the defense goes, the Cowboys had major issues stopping the run last week and the Falcons are sure to test a unit missing its top defensive ends and will likely use one of the team’s best linebackers, rookie Micah Parsons, as an edge rush threat.
The Falcons are giving up over 123 yards on the ground this season, which should be an area that the Cowboys can exploit on offense.
Slow down the dynamic duo
The Falcons aren’t as explosive on offense without wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but they do have two athletic freaks in RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Pitts. Patterson leads the offense in receptions, while Pitts leads the Falcons in receiving yards. Combined, the duo has 1,005 receiving yards and six scores.
In his ninth year in the league, Patterson is enjoying his best season as an offensive play maker, as he is also leading Atlanta in rushing yards with 278 yards.
As a rookie, Pitts is already among the best tight ends in the league. He ranks third at the position in receiving yards and seventh in receptions and the former Florida Gator standout already has two 100-yard games under his belt.
The defense for the Cowboys will need to make sure that they slow down the two most dangerous offensive pieces for the Falcons if they want to prevent a repeat of last Sunday.
Attack the Atlanta secondary
The Falcons have a secondary that the Cowboys can throw against. Despite having one of the better young cornerbacks in the game in second-year pro A.J. Terrell, the Falcons have given up 17 touchdowns through the air. That is tied for fourth most in the NFL.
Dallas’ offense is coming off a game where they struggled to move the ball through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott completed less than 50% of his passes in the loss to Denver and the whole offense never really got into rhythm.
Wide receiver Michael Gallup is set to return to the lineup this week for his first action since Week 1. Meanwhile, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb will be looking to rebound after a rough outing in Week 9.
Getting the trio back together could bring more big plays in the passing game. The Cowboys have spent the week talking about getting back on track and the offense will have their shot to help get a new winning streak started for Dallas.
Do you think the Cowboys will bounce back and earn a victory against Atlanta in Week 10? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.