We’ve heard a lot of talk about the Cowboys’ recent success against unbeaten teams. I’m not sure how much weight those arguments hold with a sample size of just a couple games, but the general idea that the Cowboys play up to their competition is true. On Sunday night, they’ll need to play their best game of the 2012 season to take down the Atlanta Falcons.
DC Rob Ryan versus OC Dirk Koetter
As I mentioned in my What to Watch article, the Falcons—equipped with two elite receivers and a star quarterback—are much like the Giants on offense. I expect Rob Ryan to use a game plan to similar to the excessive Cover 2 looks that stopped the Giants. The Cowboys played some form of Cover 2 on 75.2 percent of their defensive snaps against the Giants this year, holding Eli Manning to 6.43 YPA.
By playing with two deep safeties, the Cowboys will dare the Falcons to run the football—something I doubt they’ll do consistently—in an effort to limit the impact of Julio Jones and Roddy White. Ryan will need to mix up his looks, however, especially if the immediate pass rush can’t get to Matt Ryan and the Cowboys are forced to blitz. Thus, the chess match between Rob Ryan and Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be a fun one to watch.
OLB Anthony Spencer versus RT Tyson Clabo
Again, Ryan’s defensive game plan will be heavily dictated by the pass rush. No one is worrying about DeMarcus Ware on the right side against Sam Baker, but Spencer versus Clabo is a more even matchup. Clabo, who has allowed five sacks on the season, is a tall, lean offensive tackle at 6’7’’, 317 pounds. The Falcons figure to use tight end Tony Gonzalez to chip Ware, so Spencer should be working on an island for much of the contest. If Spencer can get underneath Clabo’s big frame to get the right tackle out of position, he should be able to generate the pressure the Cowboys desperately need without blitzing.
QB Tony Romo versus CB Asante Samuel
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin will of course be working on Samuel, but Romo needs to remember that Samuel is the kind of cornerback who likes to take chances. The Falcons play a whole lot of zone coverage that allows Samuel to read the quarterback’s eyes and jump routes. Leading the NFL in interceptions, Romo must be very cautious when looking Samuel’s way, particularly on timing routes. I’ve counted Romo as throwing only four passes on double-moves all season, two of which went for touchdowns. If the Cowboys can connect on a few slants or outs in front of Samuel on Sunday night, look for Jason Garrett to try to get Bryant or Austin behind Samuel on a double-move.