Sunday Spotlight: Atlanta's red zone defense

The Dallas Cowboys have struggled with inconsistency all year, especially in the passing game, but their rushing offense has been absolutely dominant. No team has more running back depth than Dallas -- even with Marion Barber(notes) and Felix Jones(notes) missing time, third-stringer Tashard Choice(notes) put up 92 yards on just eight carries against the sad-sack Chiefs last Sunday. The Cowboys use their humongous offensive line, and the cunning use of delays and draws, to upend opposing defenses no matter who's carrying the rock. But today against the Falcons, they'll have a tougher test ... at least, when they get near the end zone.

Atlanta's defense is no great shakes overall -- they've allowed 4.7 rushing yards per attempt, one of the worst in the NFL, and their 6.5 yards per passing attempt allowed is decidedly middle-of-the-pack. But when opposing teams get ready to score, no defense is tougher to deal with, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA stat -- through Week 6, the Falcons rank first overall in red zone defense (from the opposing 20 to the end zone). The Falcons have allowed 15.4 points per game -- only the Patriots, Colts, and Broncos are better. What's especially interesting is that a secondary that's not mistaken by anyone for one of the league's best has allowed only five passing touchdowns. The Cowboys rank 29th in Passing DVOA in the red zone, but fifth in red zone Rushing DVOA -- and this is where the winner will probably be decided. Watch for that dominant offensive line to challenge ends John Abraham(notes) and Kroy Biermann(notes) as well as Jamaal Anderson(notes), who's finally found some effectiveness as a tackle in passing situations. If the Cowboys can stop middle linebacker Curtis Lofton(notes) from filling those inside gaps -- Lofton's been a scud missile all season -- that will go a long way to setting up a Dallas win.

Yes, the Cowboys need to be aware of Matt Ryan(notes), Tony Gonzalez(notes), Michael Turner(notes), and Roddy White(notes) -- but the untold, and equally important, story is what the Falcons are doing on defense when it counts.

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