The Dallas Cowboys are coming of their most emotional loss of the season and get rewarded by facing the league’s only undefeated team. But you never know what can happen in the NFL especially on Sunday night. So before the Dallas Cowboys head off to Atlanta this weekend, here’s a look at 10 Atlanta Falcons you ought to know before kickoff.
QB Matt Ryan – Dubbed as ‘Matty Ice’ for being cool under pressure, Ryan is quickly climbing the ladder to become on of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. In 2010, he set career highs in touchdowns (28), completion percentage (62.5) and yards (3,705) and earned a trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler. He followed that up by passing for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Ryan is now on pace to have his best season yet and is the main reason why the Falcons are the only undefeated team in the NFL.
DE John Abraham – The Dallas Cowboys offensive line will have a tough time handling Abraham, who is the Atlanta Falcons career leader in sacks with 64.5. Abraham has racked up six sacks in his past five games and is absolutely dominating opposing offensive tackles. The four-time Pro Bowler has also forced three fumbles and batted three balls down at the line of scrimmage this season.
WR Roddy White – While Julio Jones may be the new kid on the block, White still gets his share of targets and currently leads the Falcons with 40 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns. White has posted five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. He might not be as big and physical as Jones, but he creates separation and will nab anything in his vicinity.
LB Sean Weatherspoon – Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys, Weatherspoon suffered an ankle injury on Sunday is listed as questionable. If he does play, Weatherspoon will certainly make his presence felt. He has been a tackling machine this season and leads the Falcons with 52 tackles and three sacks. If Weatherspoon is unable to go, it will be a huge loss for Atlanta not only as linebacker but as the leader of this defense.
WR Julio Jones – After being drafted sixth overall in the 2011 draft, Jones has blossomed into one of the NFL’s most dangerous wide receivers. Last season, he led all rookie wide outs in touchdown receptions with eight. This year, he has seen role grow as the Falcons continue to become a pass happy offense. So far, Jones has recorded 35 receptions for 499 yards and five touchdowns.
S Thomas DeCoud – In a secondary that features talented corners Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson, it is DeCoud, who leads the Falcons in interceptions with four and pass deflections with six. Tony Romo is coming off a four interception game so if he continues this trend, DeCoud will more than likely be the man catching his errant passes.
RB Michael Turner – The burner is on the downfall but is still the primary option in Atlanta. Turner leads the Falcons with 415 yards and three touchdowns but has only rushed for over 100 yards once this season. Despite the decline in production, expect Turner to carry a heavy load and maybe even break a couple of big runs.
TE Tony Gonzalez -Simply put, Gonzalez is Mr. Reliable. The 36-year old has been to the Pro Bowl 12 times and continues to be one of the most dominant tight ends in the game. His 59 targets is tied with Roddy White for the team lead, which means Ryan still trusts his savvy veteran pass catcher. Gonzalez actually leads the Falcons in receptions with 46 and is tied for second on the team with four touchdown catches.
CB Asante Samuel – Low risk. High reward. All the Falcons had to give up to obtain the four-time Pro Bowler was a seventh round pick, which is pretty low price considering Samuel’s 38 interceptions since 2006 lead the NFL. Samuel has rewarded Atlanta by holding down his side of the field this season in place of Brent Grimes, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Samuel has deflected four passes and returned an interception for a touchdown against Oakland. Cowboys should already be familiar with Samuel, who is the second on the Eagles all-time interception list.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers – With Turner struggling, expect Rodgers to steal a few more carries. The Oregon State product is used often on third downs and is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Being a scat back makes him a perfect compliment to a bigger back like Turner. This season Rodgers has rushed for 137 yards, caught 20 passes for 137 yards and scored two total touchdowns (see below).
Editors Clarification: Jacquizz Rodgers has scored a total of 2 touchdowns, including his TD in the 27-3 win @SD in Week #3 of the 2011 season.
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys were without two of their top three wide receivers, a starting defensive end and their starting running back for Sunday’s game at Atlanta was limited with a knee injury.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant did not practice because of a sore hip but he is expected to be ready for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. Bryant was hurt as he came crashing down on the turf on a near game-winning touchdown catch Sunday against the New York Giants.
Kevin Ogletree, the team’s No. 3 receiver, did not practice because of a hamstring strain. He was at practice in pads during the open portion of the session to the media.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher did not practice because of a bruised shin. While he is expected to be OK for Sunday’s game, Marcus Spears worked with the starters on Wednesday.
Felix Jones was limited with a bruised knee. He was limited in two of three practices last week but was able to play a full game against the Giants.
Linebacker Dan Connor did not practice because of a stinger that is likely to keep him out of the Falcons’ game. The Cowboys would turn to Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims to replace Connor, who was already subbing for an injured Sean Lee.
Running back DeMarco Murray (foot), center Phil Costa (ankle), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) did not practice, as expected.
Orie Lemon had not played much on defense before Sunday against the Giants. Two plays is all, in fact.
But the Cowboys didn’t suffer when Lemon had to replace Dan Connor, who went out after 10 plays with a neck strain. Lemon played 23 plays and newly signed Ernie Sims 10.
"Orie did play some in the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Ernie Sims did play some in the game. I think those guys handled themselves well going into that situation."
Lemon, who spent all of last season and two games this season on the practice squad, was activated to the 53-player roster the day before the Cowboys’ game against Tampa Bay. He has been a special teams contributor in three games but had played only two plays on defense this season until Sunday.
He made three tackles against the Giants.
"It was good for me to get it against a good team like the Giants, being able to go in and do what I did," Lemons said. "I have a lot to work on, but I know what I’ve got to work on."
With Sean Lee out for the year with a toe injury, and Connor’s status undetermined for Sunday’s game against the undefeated Falcons, Lemon is preparing as if he will start.
"I know at any moment anything can happen, so I’ve got to be mentally ready for anything," Lemon said. "I study like I’m a starter, so I make sure if I do go in there, there won’t be any drop-off."
DALLAS COWBOY EVOLVING: Carter has gone from untested rookie to defensive signal caller in one calendar year
In the span of one calendar year, Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter has gone from untested rookie to the signal-caller of the team’s defense heading into Sunday’s game at Atlanta (7-0).
Carter, a second-round draft choice in 2011, spent the first six weeks of last season rehabbing from knee surgery for a torn ACL suffered during his senior season at North Carolina. He was activated for the first time on Oct. 29 and played in the final 10 games, primarily on special teams.
Carter has been a starter this season and, because of a season-ending toe injury to teammate Sean Lee, will call the defensive signals for the Cowboys (3-4) for the second consecutive week against the Falcons.
“It’s a whole lot different. Last year, I was just kind of nervous coming in to play in my first game in the NFL,” Carter said, reflecting on the increased responsibility he has shouldered for the Cowboys within the past year. “This year, I’m really in the mix. The situation is different, with Sean (Lee) being out. I’m trying to take it one play at a time and just study as much as I can and make sure everyone is on the right track.”
Coach Jason Garrett praised Carter, who played all 60 defensive snaps in last week’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, for playing “particularly well” in his debut as the Cowboys’ defensive signal-caller. Carter said he is adjusting to his new role and hopes to continue making progress against Atlanta.
“It’s obviously going to take a little bit to get used to, but I think it went pretty well,” Carter said. “I think we did a great job of communicating.”
In terms of whether he feels like a veteran on the field, Carter said: “I still feel like I’m young. There’s still a lot of my game ahead of me. I’m learning every day … I wouldn’t say I’m a rookie on the field. I’ve played, obviously. But I still feel like I’m young in the NFL.”