IRVING, Texas – One team’s got one of the league’s most reliable tight ends and two receivers who can make spectacular plays, leading their team to the No. 8 passing offense this season. This team also possesses a decent passing defense but struggles running the football, ranking 24th in that category.
The other team’s got one of the league’s most reliable tight ends and two receivers who can make spectacular plays, helping their team to the No. 3 passing offense this season. This team also possesses the No. 3 passing defense but struggles running the football, ranking 28th in that category.
Deciding which team is 7-0 and which team is 3-4 might not be so simple.
The first is the Atlanta Falcons, who’ve found a way to win every single game despite a mediocre rushing attack. The second is the Dallas Cowboys, who’ve used their outside weapons well at times but continue to be set back by mental mistakes.
“We’re a different style offense than they are,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “Certainly, you aspire to have some of the success they’ve had moving the ball. They’ve made some plays. They’ve minimized the bad plays. That’s something we all aspire around the league to do.”
Two crucial differences exist between these two teams, and neither has anything to do with rushing or passing offense totals. Atlanta’s unbeaten team boasts a plus-10 in turnover ratio, while the Dallas Cowboys are at minus-11. That amounts to exactly three turnovers better per game than the Cowboys.
Secondly, the Falcons have 24 penalties through seven games, averaging a little more than three per game. Among the recurring issues this Cowboys team faces is its penalty problem, pushing the team back, specifically when it gets near the red zone. Dallas has more than twice as many penalties this season as the Falcons, with 55 through seven games, averaging nearly eight per game.
“It’s something that was emphasized since the day we got here as a coaching staff,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “I believe if you’re one of the fewest penalized teams in the league, you’re going to have a chance to succeed.”
Smith holds every player accountable for every penalty made, making abundantly clear who was guilty of each penalty and when the penalty occurred, placing a different weight for each penalty. By playing sound football, they’ve been able to mask the areas they don’t excel at, including running the football, averaging 95 yards per game on the ground, and stopping the run, allowing 136.4 yards rushing per game.
“I think they’ve blended the things they’ve done really well for a few years, with some of the new ideas, and it’s been a real good blend for them,” Garrett said. “It’s very effective week in and week out.”
Though Falcons receiver Roddy White teased the notion earlier this year, Smith said the Cowboys’ receiving corps is as good as any in the league. The lack of success goes back to the costly turnovers, penalties and untimely mistakes from players up and down the Cowboys’ roster.
The Falcons have made up for their inconsistencies by holding onto the football, getting the football back to their offense, not committing penalties, and, thus, not halting drives, allowing them to reach the end zone. The Cowboys haven’t been able to do that, and now find themselves with a 2-2 road record and 1-2 record at home.
“In this league, you’ve got to win at home,” Smith said. “There’s a formula that makes you relevant at the end of the season if you can take care of business in your own building, and that’s something we’ve talked about from the very beginning.”