1) How and who can stop or slow down Julio Jones?
The hope is probably to just contain Julio Jones, not stop him. A little known fact is that Dallas' run game actually started to be elite at the end of the 2013 season; yet it wasn't until 2014 that they got the recognition. In the same way, we could be looking at the Dallas secondary of 2015. In the playoffs last year, Brandon Carr lined up one-on-one with Calvin Johnson and then Jordy Nelson. He gave up 8 catches for 80 yards against Megatron, and just 27 yards against Nelson. In Week One, a committee approach (Carr, Claiborne, Patmon, Byron Jones) held Odell Beckham to 42 yards. 0 touchdowns allowed over those contests. Julio Jones will be the litmus test, but they've shut down three elite receivers in a row.
2) Can the Cowboys survive without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant?
Survive is the perfect word, because that is probably the best case scenario. The NFC East looks down this year, so starting out 2-0 in the division will be a big boost. With the combination likely to return at the same time, getting to 4 or 5 wins with 7 to go has to be the target for the team. Anything else is gravy and anything less will be tough to overcome.
3) What will be the offensive strategy with Romo out?
The issue is so complicated. Ideally, you'd rely on the run game and taking your chances against a front seven, because Dallas' strength on the offensive line. However, Dez Bryant not being able to take the focus on the defense means that the box will be stacked. Weeden will have to use all of the Cowboys weapons at his disposal. Terrance Williams on deep patterns and slants, Cole Beasley underneath, Jason Witten on comebacks and sending RB Lance Dunbar out on patterns to get mismatches with linebackers. Zone runs with Joseph Randle, power runs with McFadden... it will all have to be on display to keep Atlanta from getting a beat on what they are trying to do. Most important of all will be defense. A great defensive effort will be the best offensive strategy for the next two months.
4) Can the Cowboys put pressure on Matt Ryan?
If this game was happening later in the season, then yes, but as it stands now it will be difficult. Dallas is still without Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory is at least a week away with his high ankle sprain. Tyrone Crawford can collapse a pocket, but without the outside edge pressure it's a much tougher task for that to lead into disruption. Demarcus Lawrence is coming along and Jeremy Mincey is steady, but as of now neither is a consistent threat to live in the backfield, and the Atlanta offense likes to move Ryan around.
5) How do you think this game will play out?
This might be the toughest game to get a bead on for the Cowboys this year. Brandon Weeden as an in-game fill-in is fine, but how will he perform when the opposition prepares for him and his shortcomings? I think Dallas can pull the game out if their running game (actually running, not passing to backs out the backfield) gets it going. Until proven otherwise, I'll take my chances on the defense doing enough to win again, 20-17.
Five questions about the Cowboys
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