ARLINGTON, Texas – Hello. I am back in the Death Star. I’ll be here all game for live blogging. But first, just a few observations.
Driving around Saturday after posting the Digi-Blog on Cowboys Stadium, I was struck by how negative Dallas fans and media feel about the team. Listened to local sports talk a little and chatted with some fans and there seems to be a consensus that the Dallas defense can’t stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Many also believe Tony Gonzalez could be a major factor today. I realize that’s not exactly going out on a limb, but the Cowboys have struggled against good tight ends.
I spoke to Ryan earlier in the week about this season and his career thus far, and it’s clear he’s pumped for this game. Remember, he grew up in Philadelphia as an Eagles fan. Philly folks have a built-in dislike of anything Dallas-related. There’s also the fact that former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who now works for Fox, has been praising Ryan during broadcasts.
“It’s pretty cool to hear those things,” Ryan said about comments from both Aikman
and former coach Tony Dungy, who has compared Ryan with a young Peyton Manning. “But you have to take them with a grain of salt. I certainly feel like I have a long way to go to sniff what Peyton’s doing. Troy Aikman is somebody I grew up watching beat up on the Philadelphia Eagles for my entire youth.”
Gonzalez, a 13-year veteran, has marveled how unaffected Ryan has been by the attention. “I was just thinking about that today — there’s a lot of pressure on him,” he said Wednesday. “He’s just in his second year. A lot of people forget that. You’ve got a guy like Troy Aikman anointing you — and he’s deserved it, too. A guy like Troy Aikman — I don’t think he’s going to sugar coat anything. If there’s a good player, he’s going to talk about it. It’s for a good reason.”
Finally, there’s this: The Falcons’ defense has been either: 1) Bend but don’t break; 2) unbelievably lucky; 3) a little of both. Atlanta ranks 24th in yards allowed (359.2) but third in scoring defense (15.4 points). The Chicago Bears came away scoreless in three red zone possessions last week, twice because of turnovers.
“I’ve always believed the most important statistic is points allowed,” said coach Mike Smith, who spent most of his career as a defensive coach. “The year we set an NFL record for points allowed with our Super Bowl team in Baltimore, we did not lead the league in defense. Tennessee did. We were second in the league.”
True. But second is better than 23rd.
“All I’m trying to say is the only thing we talk to our guys about is keeping them out of the end zone,” he said. “People are going to make plays.”
So there it is. What are your pre-game thoughts on this game. I need to go find a cup of coffee and I’ll be right back.