There's been a lot of talk this week about how much the Cowboys need to pressure Matt Ryan. History says that the more pressure Ryan faces, the more likely he is to make big mistakes and those mistakes would surely help the Cowboys win on Sunday. Looking at the one Falcons loss this season, however, points to a different path.
When the Patriots beat the Falcons in Week 3, they did it without forcing Ryan into a fumble or interception and they didn't record a single sack. What they did do was stop Tony Gonzalez cold. Gonzo had one catch in the 20-7 loss, which is quite notable when you realize he's averaged more than five catches in the four Atlanta victories this season.
The Patriots stopped Gonzalez by throwing two defenders at him on nearly every play. Those defenders boxed Gonzalez in, either by playing above and below or on either side of him. That limited his ability to slip into empty,exploitable areas in the defense and his ability to adjust to the defense and find a way to get open for Ryan. The Cowboys have indicated that they plan to take a similar approach against Gonzalez this weekend.
That works against an aggressive pass rush. Two defenders on Gonzalez takes one linebacker and a safety out of pass rush plans, and with the dangerous Roddy White at receiver the Cowboys would be foolish not to have extra help lined up for Terrence Newman a good portion of the time. And that's just the base defense. When the Falcons bring in extra receivers, the Cowboys will be spread even thinner if they hope to fully corrall Gonzalez.
There is a way that the Cowboys can both slow Gonzalez and pressure Ryan. Like so many other things involving the Cowboys defense, the answer is DeMarcus Ware. If he can avoid getting stuck covering Gonzalez and provide consistent pressure on his own, it will eliminate the need to add extra players to the pass rush.
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons and Cowboys position Gonzalez and Ware, because the winner of that chess match may wind up winning the whole game.