Matt Ryan will be the biggest-named quarterback in Atlanta’s Sunday afternoon matchup in Dallas. With both teams sitting at 2-0, the Falcons are searching for their first 3-0 start since 2012 when they finished the year 13-3. The Cowboys will have Brandon Weeden under center with Tony Romo on the shelf.
So, for Ryan, who has tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions so far this season it means he’ll have to be focused at the task at hand. For what it’s worth, he’s 1-1 in two career starts against the Cowboys and dropped the lone meeting in Dallas in 2009.
The Falcons’ offense currently ranks third in the league in passing yards per game (318.0) and fifth in total yards per game (398.5). Atlanta is converting nearly half of their third-down attempts (15-of-31).
Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones will be the focus of the Falcons’ offense for much of the season with Roddy White aging and the young running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman still working out the kinks.
Ryan has hooked up with Jones on 22 pass attempts for 276 yards and two scores. Jones is averaging 12.5 YPR. No other Atlanta pass-catcher has more than 10 receptions or 100 yards. The next closest guy is Leonard Hankerson, who has eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
For the 33-year-old White he has four catches for 84 yards, which all came in Week 1 against Philadelphia. Ryan needs his No. 2 wide receiver to step up in this NFC matchup. With the Cowboys defense likely to double Jones at times for an endless list of reasons, White, Hankerson and tight end Jacob Tamme will need to help Ryan’s job easier.
Dallas will look like a team prepping for the season in this one with Weeden under center and Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Devin Street as their top three receivers. Not having Romo or Dez Bryant will hurt the Cowboys eventually. It hasn’t just yet, but with the Falcons in town Sunday you can bet they will have a tough time keeping up on the scoreboard.
Bright future ahead
Atlanta is trying to get past two rough seasons where they finished 4-12 in 2013 and 6-10 in 2014. Under defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn things have turned around for the better thus far. It also is a boost having offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who has helped create more space offensively for Ryan to connect on bigger plays.
Over his last 15 games, Ryan has won only six with two coming to start this season. The end of Mike Smith’s tenure was rough on everybody for the Falcons as the defense got worse and the offense didn’t look high-octane like year’s past.
Regardless, Ryan still owns a 68-44 record in 112 games since he entered the league in 2008 as a first round selection from Boston College. The NFC South is wide open outside of the Carolina Panthers, who are also 2-0. Tampa Bay (1-1) and New Orleans (0-2) don’t look like contenders at all.
If the Falcons can win this division watch out. They will continue to get better on both sides of the ball. Having Quinn improve the defense as the year goes by is key, but having Ryan run a top-10 offense is essential for their success.
Atlanta’s possible playoff run starts Sunday in Dallas in a game that is there for the taking for Ryan and Co.