Pay Attention To This: Cowboys-Falcons Preview

Jason Garrett vs. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett has only played the Falcons twice and the Cowboys have lost each game. The 39-28 loss in 2015 is memorable because Dallas led 14-0 and Joseph Randle looked like he was gonna be a ready-made replacement for DeMarco Murray with a 37-yard touchdown run and another one-yard run that gave the Cowboys a 14-0 lead. Then the Falcons zoomed by the Cowboys with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones doing damage.

Key Matchup: DE Vic Beasley vs. LT Chaz Green. Beasley leads the Falcons with four sacks, which leads the team. The Falcons will give him an opportunity to attack Chaz Green, who will probably start for injured left tackle Tyron Smith is hurt. Green spoke confidently this week about his ability to play, and he’s comfortable at tackle because that’s where he’s spent his career. Green was solid in his one start last year. He’s protecting Dak Prescott’s blindside, which means he has one of the most important jobs on the offense this weekend.

X-Factor: Rod Smith. With Ezekiel Elliott suspended for six games, Rod Smith will be getting considerably more playing time. Smith will handle most third downs, and he’ll have to be a good blocker so Dak Prescott doesn’t get hit too much. Elliott is excellent at blitz pickups, so matching his performance as a blocker is almost as difficult as matching his production as a runner. Smith has been waiting for this opportunity. If there’s one player who’s going to emerge from this Elliott situation, it’s going to be Smith, who had a strong preseason and has done a good job in limited opportunities this season.

Key Stat: The Falcons simply don’t yield many big plays to their opponents - and without Elliott in the lineup, the Cowboys will be looking for Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley to make them. The Falcons have allowed just three runs of 20 yards or more this season, which is tied for fifth in the league. They have allowed 19 runs of 20 yards or more, which is tied for third in the NFL and, overall, the Falcons have yielded just 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season. Without big plays, the Cowboys will need long drives to score touchdowns and that’s always a tricky proposition because a negative play, penalty, dropped pass can easily wreck a drive that doesn’t have a big play.

Game Plan: The Cowboys more than ever will bang away with their running game and try to prove they can impose their will no matter who’s  playing running back. Alfred Morris will get the bulk of the carries, but Smith and Darren McFadden should also carry the ball some. Defensively, the Cowboys will try to attack Matt Ryan with their defensive line, so they can drop seven and play zone behind it.

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