FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Wake up, Falcons fans!
All week long I’ve waited for one question – the question – from any Falcons fan, and it never showed up in my inbox.
In case you didn’t know, I publish a daily mailbag on this site called Straight from the ’Beek – and it runs Monday through Friday, every week, all year long. I’ve literally answered thousands of questions from Falcons fans, who are usually spot on when it comes to hitting the important topics.
But not this week.
Oh, I’ve received hundreds of questions and comments this week about the 28-16 loss to the Browns. Dozens more about players the Falcons should now cut or trade (happens after every loss). Many of you still want to know how the Falcons will fare down the stretch and what it will take to make the playoffs. And an increasing amount of you already have your eyes on 2019 – asking about salary cap space and the top prospects in the NFL Draft.
But I haven’t received the one question every single Falcons fan should be asking right now. So I’ll put it out there for you:
How important is the Cowboys game on Sunday?
After the Falcons were stunned on the road by the Browns, the Cowboys game moved past important status and into must-win territory.
I’ll take it a step further and call it an elimination game. Not officially, mind you, but for all intents and purposes, the loser of the Cowboys-Falcons game probably won’t be able to dig out of the 4-6 hole one of them will find themselves in with a loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Not only are both of these teams sitting with sub-.500 records right now, but both the Falcons and the Cowboys must turn around and play four days later on Thanksgiving Day.
Against their hated division rivals, no less.
The Cowboys host the Redskins at 4:30 p.m. ET and the Falcons must go on the road and play the Saints at 8:20 p.m. ET. Oh, and don’t forget, both the Redskins (6-3) and Saints (8-1) are sitting in first place of their respective divisions, too.
But none of that matters. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and throw this out there: Whichever team loses on Sunday will probably turn around and lose on Thanksgiving Day, too. With their playoff hopes all but over and hanging by a thread, I can see either the Saints or the Redskins being especially motivated to drive a nail into their rival’s proverbial coffin.
If you’re drawing any confidence from or banking on the fact that the Falcons manhandled the Cowboys 27-7 this time last year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, forget that, too. Both teams came out of that one with 5-4 records and finished the year with very different results.
And despite similar records again this year, don’t overlook the fact that these Cowboys will arrive with Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith in uniform this time around.
Which Falcons run defense will show up on Sunday, the one that shut down Adrian Peterson and the Redskins or the one that Nick Chubb and the Browns ran all over?
Will the Falcons be disciplined enough to contain Elliott?
Can the Falcons dial up pressure on Dak Prescott like they did in 2017, when they sacked the Cowboys quarterback eight times?
All are important questions and should play a major part in determining the outcome of this one. As will the usual suspects – creating turnovers, limiting penalties, red zone efficiency, winning on third down and playing smart, error-free football.
But here’s one more important area that I think could determine whether or not the Falcons beat the Cowboys on Sunday: running the football.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith. You too, Alex Mack, Wes Schweitzer, Jake Matthews, Ben Garland and Ryan Schraeder.
The Falcons ran the ball effectively in two games this season – when they beat the Panthers 31-24 in Week 2 and in a 38-14 win over the Redskins in Week 9. Against Carolina, the Falcons amassed 170 total yards on the ground, including 107 from Coleman on 16 carries. And against Washington, the Falcons rushed for 154 totals yards. Coleman led the way with 88 yards on 13 carries and Smith contributed 60 more on just 10 totes.
In the Falcons’ two other wins against the Buccaneers and Giants, the Falcons rushed for a total of 70 and 67 yards, respectively. And the margin of victory in both contests was much closer, too.
I think if the Falcons are going to beat the Cowboys on Sunday, Coleman and Smith must have big days – combine for at least 150 yards or more on the ground.
And I think if the Falcons are going to have any shot at a postseason berth, they must beat the Cowboys on Sunday.
I know you didn’t ask, but I’m putting it out there anyway.