Packers Shouldn't See Falcons and Cowboys as Similar Foes

On the surface, the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons feel like similar teams. Both won their division and finished with superb records – Dallas at 13-3 and Atlanta at 11-5. Both teams run the ball well behind a talented offensive line and have a superstar, game-breaking wide receiver.

The Packers will no doubt have their hands full on Sunday against the Falcons much like they did against the Cowboys, but to say Atlanta poses a similar matchup is simply untrue. 

Let’s take a look at three key differences between the two squads.

The makeup of their coaching staffs

The Cowboys under Jason Garrett have always been an offensive-focused team. In his seven years as head coach, only once (2008) did the Cowboys have a higher ranked defense than offense. With the likes of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrell Owens, Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott over the years, Dallas has always been stronger on the offensive side of the ball.

The Falcons have not had an offensive-minded head coach since 2007, when Bobby Petrino stopped by for 13 games. Since then, former Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive mind Mike Smith and Seattle Seahawks defensive guru Dan Quinn have held the post. 

When they last played a big game

The Cowboys hadn’t played a meaningful game since beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football a month ago in Week Fifteen. Before their Monday night game against the Lions, Dallas had clinched home field advantage in the playoffs. Between that time, the Packers beat division rival Minnesota, played a de-facto NFC North championship game against Detroit and knocked off the New York Giants at home in the Wild Card round.

Atlanta clinched the NFC South on Christmas Eve, but needed to win in Week 17 to secure the NFC’s number two seed and a bye in the playoffs. They rested during the Wild Card weekend, and faced a playoff-tested Seattle Seahawks team on Saturday. The Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ stadium, is set to be demolished after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Atlanta will play next door in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season.

How they rush the passer

Advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus was rather harsh on the Cowboys starting defensive line, ranking all four of their starting defensive linemen in their base package as poor. 

Dallas was able to sack Aaron Rodgers three times, but all three sacks came from their secondary (safety Barry Church, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and safety Jeff Heath). The Cowboys  tied for 24th league-wide with 28 sacks. Considering how often they were leading and forcing other teams to pass, there’s certainly room for improvement.

On the other end, the Falcons had nine more sacks than the Cowboys did in the regular season. Of the teams that made the playoffs, only Seattle registered more sacks. Leading the way for the Falcons is second-year linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. He led the NFL in sacks in 2016 with 15.5 and forced a league-high six fumbles. Quinn’s defense certainly features more dynamic pass rushers than Dallas.