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KEYS TO THE LOSS: Plenty of problem spots, but it starts in the trenches

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - Head to Head

ATLANTA – Yes, this team has all kinds of issues, and for the most part, they revolve around a lack of consistency. One week the receivers are making big plays, and the next they come up empty.

The running backs have been hit, but mostly miss this year, and the quarterback, yeah, we all know how up and down Tony Romo has been.

But aside from one game in Baltimore, the one thing that has been rather consistent has been this offensive line. And that’s not really a compliment. The offensive line has consistently struggled, and it was never more evident than Sunday night against the Falcons.

And it was across the board like always. Nate Livings and Ryan Cook had all sorts of problems getting their blocks, while Tyron Smith struggled on the outside. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free weren’t exactly dominant, but at least held their own.

But none of them were without problems.

Pick your play. Pick your key moment in the game and I’m sure the offensive line had something to do with it.

This team had its moments to make plays, but like always, kept shooting themselves in the foot – or better yet, missing a block on the outside, grabbing a lineman for holding or simply not having enough push up the middle.

Sure, this team misses DeMarco Murray as the running back. He’s the best one they’ve got and he’s been hurt. But the Cowboys have now used four different backs this year at various times and nothing really seems to be working.

Against the Falcons, the Cowboys’ lack of a consistent running game ended up hurting them in the end.

Last week, we thought the Cowboys lost the game in the first half when they got down, 23-0. Yet, they found a way to claw back and take the lead before eventually losing by five points in the final minutes.

This week, although the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys arguably lost this game in the first quarter once again. Two chances to score inside the Falcons’ 20 and both times they settled for field goals.

Again, there were plenty of problems to go around, but I think it all starts up front with the line.

Too many times in this game the Cowboys had moments in which they simply needed to run the ball and pick up necessary yards, and they couldn’t convert. It happened early in the game on those scoring drives and then again before halftime with a third-and-1 at midfield.

But honestly, I can’t understand why this team continues to try to go big-on-big in short-yardage situations after constantly failing at it.

It happened several times against the Giants last week and it occurred yet again Sunday night in Atlanta.

When it’s third-and-1, why in the world do they continue to go with a jumbo package of three tight ends and a fullback? It basically draws all 22 players into the center of the field. There’s really no trickery or misdirection here.

It’s basically my guy vs. your guy and let’s see who wins. Well, how many times do we need to see it? The Cowboys had five total rushing touchdowns last year. They’ve got four already this year, but that’s not exactly a high number.

It all starts with the line up front and they just don’t get the push.

On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys get down to a first-and-goal from the 10. Now that’s always a tough place to punch it in, but on second-and-goal from the 6, they need more than a 1-yard run from Felix Jones. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, setting up a passing situation on third down that resulted in a field goal.

The biggest rushing miscue was right before the half when they had third-and-1 at midfield with a 6-3 lead. That’s the only time in the game they went with Phillip Tanner, and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

If you’re trying to be aggressive, it’s a spot on the field you at least consider going for it. You have a chance to go up 9-3, or even 13-3, and all you need is a yard. But other than letting Tony Romo go out and try to draw the defense offside, there was no real thought in going for it.

That’s how much the line is struggling. They don’t really trust them to get a yard.

And it’s not just in the running game. Romo didn’t have much time to throw all night. He was often rolling out, scrambling left and right and trying to make throws on the run.

Even in the final play from scrimmage, Romo couldn’t even get enough time to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone – instead having to dump it off to Felix Jones for a meaningless 39-yard pass in which he decided to get tackled and end the game. (Looking back on the coach’s film, Jones might have had something working if he had seen Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree all alone on the right side of the field, although it would’ve taken quite a throw across the field from a running back).

But let’s not forget about the fact Romo didn’t even have time to set his feet and throw it to the end zone.

It’s not like the Falcons are a menacing, relentless defense that can’t be stopped. Yet the Cowboys simply couldn’t get them blocked Sunday night.

You can’t run it or throw it consistently when you can’t block them. And you can’t sustain much, especially when it gets tight in the red zone.

Add it all up and you can’t win. This team has all kinds of problem areas, but offensive line has been the No. 1 issue for this team, and it was on full display Sunday in Atlanta.

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SEALING THE DEAL: Unbeaten Atlanta Falcons pull away from Dallas Cowboys in fourth quarter

SEALING THE DEAL - Unbeaten Atlanta Falcons pull away from Dallas Cowboys in fourth quarter - The Boys Are Back blog

ATLANTA — Unbeaten Atlanta scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Dallas Cowboys en route to a 19-13 win at the Georgia Dome Sunday night.

Atlanta moves to 8-0. Dallas falls to 3-5. The Cowboys play at Philadelphia next week.

“We didn’t do enough to win this game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We have to find a way to make enough plays to win. They are a very talented team. They won eight games for a reason."

Michael Turner scored on a 1-yard run and Matt Bryant kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.

Turner finished with 102 yards on 20 carries, including a long of 43 yards. Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, but no touchdowns. Roddy White had seven grabs for 118 yards and Julio Jones had five catches for 129 yards.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Garrett said. “They did a good job making moves in the open field and the yards after catch.”

Tony Romo passed for 321 yards and no interceptions. Miles Austin and Jason Witten each had seven catches and Kevin Ogletree had three for 96 yards and one touchdown.

The Cowboys defense, similar to the previous weeks, controlled the game, but wilted late with a couple of missed key tackles.

“I thought our defense did a good job early forcing them to kick field goals,” Garrett said.

Dallas got off to a good start when the defense forced a punt on Atlanta’s first possession.

Dwayne Harris returned the punt 33 yards to the Atlanta 31.

Seven plays later, Dan Bailey made a 23-yard field goal to make it 3-0 at the 10:46 mark.

Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but on a third-and-2 play, Bruce Carter dropped Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Matt Bryant’s 37-yard field goal was wide right.

Dallas took over and struck quickly when Romo completed a 65-yard pass to Ogletree at the Falcons’ 18. Four plays later, Bailey made a 32-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead at the 3:42 mark.

Atlanta finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal by Bryant on the second play of the second quarter to make it 6-3.

Dallas tried to answer by moving to the Falcons’ 37. On third-and-7, Ogletree dropped a pass from Romo. Then Bailey missed a 54-yard field goal wide left.

Taking over on its own 44, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 36, but was forced to punt.

From their own 3, the Cowboys moved to midfield where they punted on fourth and inches.

Atlanta moved from its 12 to the Dallas 28 in 48 seconds where Bryant made a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie the game at 6-6.

“Obviously, we rather have touchdowns than field goals,” Garrett said.

Dallas punted away its first possession of the second half after working out from its 14 to the Atlanta 44.

Atlanta drove from its 13 to the Dallas 25 where Bryant barely missed a 43-yard field goal to the right at the 6:43 mark.

Dallas was on the move and faced a third-and-13 play at the Dallas 41, but a wide-open Miles Austin dropped the pass and the Cowboys punted.

Atlanta countered with the first touchdown of the game. The Falcons drove 81 yards in six plays with Michael Turner scoring on a 1-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter to make it 13-6.

After another Dallas punt, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but a sack, short run and an incompletion forced Bryant’s 36-yard field goal to push the Falcons lead to 16-6 with 7:49 left in the game.

Now running out of time, Dallas went to its hurry-up, no-huddle offense and it paid off.

Dallas drove 78 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Romo threw 20 yards to Ogletree for the touchdown to make it 16-13 with 5:21 left in the game. Romo completed all six of his passes, including two to Jason Witten, who became the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver on the drive, passing Michael Irvin.

With 5:21, Atlanta began its victory march by converting three third downs, including two on short passes to Jacquizz Rodgers, to put the game away. Bryant made a 32 yard field goal to make it 19-13 with 17 seconds left.

Four plays later, the game ended with a completion to Felix Jones at the Atlanta 21.

“We have to stay together and go back to work,” Garrett said.

RUNAWAY WIN TO REMAIN UNDEFEATED: Atlanta Falcons 19, Dallas Cowboys 13

    Stopping Themselves - Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog

    ATLANTA — The season is now in jeopardy for the Dallas Cowboys.

    They came here trying to knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons but failed, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost eight consecutive games on Sunday night and are 3-5 overall at the halfway point of the season. The Falcons improved to a perfect 8-0.

    What it means: The Cowboys are two games under .500 and most likely will have to win seven of the next eight to get into the playoffs. If the Cowboys win six of the next eight, they might need some help to reach the postseason.

    Scandrick with some gaffes: Slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. He missed a tackle on a 31-yard run play by Michael Turner on a third-and-6, then was flagged for defensive holding on a third-and-8 play against Roddy White. Both plays extended the last drive of the night for the Falcons. It’s these kinds of plays that Scandrick has to make, especially with the game on the line.

    Running back rotation: Felix Jones started, but Lance Dunbar (North Texas) got a majority of the snaps as the backup instead of Phillip Tanner. For the game, the Cowboys rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries. Jones had 39 yards on nine carries and Dunbar, on eight carries, picked up 26 yards. It’s clear the Cowboys miss starting running back DeMarco Murray, who was out with a sprained foot. His return for the Philadelphia Eagles game next week is a possibility.

    Witten makes Cowboys history: Coming into the game, tight end Jason Witten needed three catches to tie Michael Irvin as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. Witten finished with seven catches for 51 yards. But once again, he had no touchdowns.

    No Bryant in second half: Dez Bryant started despite a sore hip and finished with one catch for 15 yards, none in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t target him in the second half. Instead, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree were the main targets, along with Witten.

    Ratliff plays hurt: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hurt his left ankle late in the first half. While he didn’t start the second half, he played through the injury. There were no other major injuries for the Cowboys.

    Who’s next? The Cowboys finish their toughest stretch of the season (four of five on the road) with a trip to see the Eagles on Sunday.

NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons

Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at how the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons match up

Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - NBC Sunday Night Football in America - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys are expected to face their most challenging test to date when they travel to the Deep South to face Atlanta. The Falcons are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL and there is a reason why their record is unblemished. They avoid mistakes. Atlanta is the least-penalized team in the league and has a plus-10 turnover differential. The Cowboys, meanwhile have been their own worst enemy. They have been flagged 54 times and committed 19 turnovers — the second-highest total in the NFL. For the Cowboys to march into the Georgia Dome and defeat Atlanta, they first have to make sure they don’t beat themselves. Here’s a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

There are three teams in the NFL that are allowing more than five yards per carry. Atlanta is one of them. The Falcons’ defense has shown vulnerability when teams have elected to keep the ball on the ground. But whether the Cowboys have the ability to take advantage of their weakness is uncertain. Starting tailback DeMarco Murray  won’t play as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. And backups Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner gained only 19 rushing yards on 15 carries in the Cowboys’ 29-24 loss to the Giants.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Cowboys pass

Tony Romo’s never attempted more passes or thrown for more yards than he did last Sunday against the Giants. But Romo also tossed four costly interceptions. His performance encapsulated the inconsistency of the Cowboys’ air attack, which has been reliably unreliable this season. Now Romo and Co. face the Falcons, the tenth-stingiest pass defense in the NFL. Atlanta is allowing an average of 216.9 yards through the air per game and has made 10 interceptions. Safety Thomas DeCoud has four of those picks.

Edge: Falcons

When the Falcons run

Neither Michael Turner nor Jacquizz Rodgers stands taller than 5 feet, 10 inches. Just as small as their stature have been their gains on the ground.  The two Atlanta tailbacks are averaging 3.76 yards per carry this season for a team ranked 24th in rushing that has accumulated more than four yards on only 36.9 percent of its attempts. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been solid against the run – holding teams to 104.7 yards per game on the ground. Without inside linebacker Sean Lee for the first time, the Cowboys fared well against the Giants, never allowing a carry longer than 14 yards.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Falcons pass

Spearheaded by quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ air attack is potent. Ryan has completed more than 68 percent of his throws, accumulating 17 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Ryan’s success, in part, can be attributed to the weapons at his disposal. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, two players who can stretch the field, are each made averaging more than 14 yards per reception. Tight end Tony Gonzalez, meanwhile, leads the team with 46 catches. The Falcons will test the Cowboys, who have surrendered fewer passing yards per game than all but two teams.

Edge: Falcons

Special teams

After Sunday, the Cowboys can add another special teams mistake to their ledger. After Dez Bryant fumbled against the New York Giants, the Cowboys’ return units have turned the ball over twice this season. Dallas has also allowed a blocked punt and surrendered a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Atlanta’s special teams aren’t much better. The Falcons have also conceded a blocked punt. But Atlanta’s mistakes haven’t been as frequent and their kicker Matt Bryant has performed just as well as the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey. Bryant is making 94.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. Bailey is converting 92.9 percent.

Edge: Falcons

Intangibles

Since head coach Mike Smith was hired before the 2008 season, the Falcons have made the Georgia Dome a house of horrors for opponents. Atlanta has had a 29-6 regular-season record there during Smith’s tenure, posting a home winning percentage so high that it has only been eclipsed by the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens the last five seasons. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have fared terribly in Sunday night games, losing the last seven they’ve played since September 2010.

Edge: Falcons

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BLUEPRINT FOR AN UPSET: Falcons’ weaknesses shown in three narrow wins

Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, center, found some holes in the Baltimore defense and is ready to carry the load against the Giants on Sunday - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But don’t think that makes them unbeatable. In fact, of their seven wins, only one has come against a team (Broncos 4-3) that currently has a winning record.

There was also a three-week stretch in which the Falcons narrowly won games against less than stellar teams.

In week four, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on a last second field goal.

In week five, the Falcons beat the Washington Redskins (who played the end of the game without Robert Griffin III) 24-17.

In week six, the Falcons beat the Oakland Raiders 23-20 at home.

A win is a win in the National Football League, so the point is not to fault the Falcons, but to look to these three games for a formula to beat Atlanta. And after taking a second look at all three games the verdict might not bode well for the Cowboys.

These three teams had success against the Falcons by effectively running the ball.

Dallas Cowboys Phillip Tanner - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys’ offense looked great against the Giants in the second half as they all but abandoned the run game. Don’t expect that to be the most effective strategy against the Atlanta Flacons.

It’s no secret that the Falcons are a big-play, quick-strike offense. With Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, they have three players that average over 10 yards per carry and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Not to mention that Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level.

Teams’ only sustained success this year against the Falcons has been by running the ball and keeping Ryan and the offense off of the field. The Falcons have the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

In their loss to the Falcons, the Panthers rushed for 199 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they ran the ball 35 times versus just 25 passing plays. Ryan still played quite efficiently, but Carolina controlled the tempo for most of the game meaning the Falcons’ offense had more pressure to rely on the big plays of their offense (which they happened to get just enough of to win).

Ironically, it was a Panthers fumble in the last moments of the game that forced them to punt it to the Falcons who drove from their own 1-yard line to hit a game-winning field goal.

The Redskins managed to hang with the Falcons despite losing Robert Griffin III in the third quarter to a concussion.

They did so with a game plan that relied heavily on running back Alfred Morris who got 115 yards off of 18 carries. The predictability of Atlanta’s offense was apparent as Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times in order for the Falcons to reach 24 points. Perhaps with Griffin playing the fourth quarter the Redskins could have continued the success of their ground attack and limited the opportunities for Ryan’s passing plays.

The next week the Oakland Raiders nearly beat the Falcons by dominating the time of possession. The Raiders ran for 149 yards compared to just 45 from the Falcons. The Falcons once again relied on big plays from their wide receivers, but this time it cost them as Ryan threw three interceptions almost costing the Falcons a win.

Like the Panthers and Redskins before them the Raiders played kept a very balanced blend of running and passing the ball. They threw the ball 33 times to go along with 32 running plays. Atlanta made just enough big plays to sneak out a 3-point victory.

What we can take from all of this is relatively obvious; the Falcons rely heavily on the expectation that their receiving threats (mainly Gonzalez, Jones and White) will make enough game-changing plays for them to win. Those players are talented enough for that to be a logical strategy. But no matter how talented your players are, such plays are rarely a given. You can’t just expect to convert every time you throw it deep to your Pro-Bowl receiver. But the Falcons take so many shots that they typically convert enough to win games.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo scrambles for a TD vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

These three teams had success against the Falcons by limiting the amount of shots they could take at big plays. In a sense they gambled that when it came down to crunch time they would be able to prevent the big passing plays. Even though they were wrong, they kept themselves in the game until the final moments.

I think that the Falcons have a clear weakness at running back and it has yet to be fully exposed. The Cowboys’ reluctance to run the ball has been well documented as they have only rushed the ball 24.1 times per game. But the Falcons are actually right behind them at 25.1 times per game.

The Cowboys and Falcons have shared many of the same weaknesses and their strengths lie in some of the same places. But considering how effective the Falcons have been this season compared to the Cowboys it might not be wise to go head to head with them on their strengths.

In other words, the Cowboys don’t want to try to get into a shoot out with the Falcons. Both teams have great weapons on offense, but the Falcons have been much more successful taking advantage of their weapons and winning games off of passing situations.

Compared to their 26th ranked rush defense, the Falcons have the 10th ranked passing defense. Their secondary is a big step up from the Giants’ secondary that the Cowboys passed all over in the second half of last Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar ran 15 times for 105 yards and a 58-yeard touchdown in 2012 Preseason game vs Miami - The Boys Are Back blog

There may be little reason to have faith in the performance of Felix Jones (who is not 100 percent), or Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar for that matter. But beating the Falcons will likely require a commitment to the running game.

Both teams will likely make big plays in the passing game. But Sunday’s game might come down to who can control the game in between those big plays. If the Cowboys fall behind by a touchdown early in the game, handing the ball off to Felix Jones and controlling the clock might not be the most popular decision, but that type of discipline and faith in the running game could be what it takes to take down a team like Atlanta.

THE TALE OF TWO CITIES: One reigns undefeated, the other faltering into mediocrity

Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - Tale of Two Cities - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - QB stats - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - QB stats expanded - The Boys Are Back blog

“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.

Dallas Cowboys penalty flags - The Boys Are Back blog

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.”

Atlanta-Falcons-head-coach-Mike-Smith - The Boys Are Back blog

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.”

SPECIAL TEAMS CHANGE: Dez Bryant off punt return duty, for now

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant off punt return duty for now - The Boys Are Back blog

After two consecutive games with mistakes as a punt returner, Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant said those duties will fall to others Sunday against Atlanta.

Asked today if he was still a punter returner, Bryant said: “I don’t think so. But I promise you, man, I’m going to bet back in their ear. I’m going to get in their ear about that.”

Bryant, who has the team’s longest punt return of the season (44 yards), said he “wasn’t disappointed at all” when coaches told him they would continue to go with others in that role. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley replaced Bryant in that role last week against New York after Bryant fumbled a punt one week after being scolded by coaches for using poor judgment during a return against Carolina.

“I was very understanding,” Bryant said. “But like I said, I’m going to get back in coach’s ear. I think it will be hard for him to tell me ‘no.’ I’m going to continue to keep working at it. It’s not hard for me to catch a punt. I just need to feel it in and stop looking up field and think before catching the rock. That should be my first objective, to catch the ball and then go make a play.”

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant out; Felix Jones limited

The Dallas Cowboys had only two changes to their injury report from Wednesday. Receiver Dwayne Harris (neck) was added to the report as a limited participant, and Jason Hatcher (shin) had a full practice after being limited Wednesday.

But Dez Bryant (hip), DeMarco Murray (foot) and Dan Connor (neck) still are among those who did not practice. Murray is expected to miss a third consecutive game, and Bryant said he expects to play.

Running back Felix Jones again was limited with a bruised knee.

Center Phil Costa (ankle), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring), defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle) and receiver Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) also missed Thursday’s practice. Ogletree said he is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his injured right hamstring later Thursday, but he is not concerned.

Costa still is wearing a walking boot.

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NAME POSITION INJURY WED. THU. FRI. GAME STATUS
Bryant, Dez WR Hip DNP DNP
Connor, Dan LB Neck DNP DNP
Costa, Phil C Ankle DNP DNP
Harris, Dwayne WR Neck LP
Hatcher, Jason DL Shin DNP FP
Johnson, Matt S Hamstring DNP DNP
Jones, Felix RB Knee LP LP
Lissemore, Sean DE Ankle DNP DNP
Murray, DeMarco RB Foot DNP DNP
Ogletree, Kevin WR Hamstring DNP DNP

Editors Note: Keep up with the Dallas Cowboys (and upcoming opponents) injury and practice status right here, on The Boys Are Back. Click HERE or use find the “Injury Update” page at the top or right side of this blog.

PREGAME PREPARATION: Ten Atlanta Falcons that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature)

Dallas Cowboys scheduled to face the undefeated 2012 Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan - Dubbed as Matty Ice for being cool under pressure - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

 

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Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons DE John Abraham - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

 

 

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Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons S Thomas DeCoud - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons CB Asante Samuel - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers - The Boys Are Back blog

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.

Special Thanks: A shout out to Tandy at Falcons Life Forums in Atlanta.

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INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons

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.

NEXT COWBOY UP: Orie Lemon ready to play if Dan Connor can’t

Dallas Cowboys LB Orie Lemon - The Boys Are Back blog

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

Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter evolving in 2012-2013 - The Boys Are Back blog

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.”

INTEGRATING TALENT: Jason Garrett likes Cowboys’ success with free agent additions

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims gets after Eli Manning - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims, who joined the team last week, made a positive impact in his 10 snaps against the New York Giants, said coach Jason Garrett, and could see more playing time Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Safety Charlie Peprah, also signed last week, could be active against Atlanta and Garrett said he has “done a nice job acclimating himself into the defense” during practices.

Taking players off the street and turning them into productive performers during the regular season has become a recurring theme with the Cowboys in recent seasons. Last year, Dallas watched receiver Laurent Robinson (11 TD catches) and offensive guard Montrae Holland (10 starts) step up as key contributors who were added to the roster after the start of the regular season.

Garrett is hoping Sims and Peprah could join that list.

“When an injury happens, you need to have a go-to guy at that spot,” Garrett said. “Our scouting department does a really good job, having those short lists and understanding not only where the guy was the last time he was playing but where he is now … Some times, it’s a go-to four or five guys to see who fits best for that given circumstance. But we have done a good job with that. It’s an important part of your team because, over the course of the season, you’re going to have injuries. To be able to absorb them with your current roster and then go out on the street to get guys who can be productive, it’s an important part of the course of the 16-game season.”

Garrett indicated Sims, signed in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading tackler Sean Lee, could have a bigger role this week but did not elaborate.

“I don’t want to go into specifics of that, but (Sims) did a nice job in last week’s game,” Garrett said. With more work, Garrett said Sims could “play even better” against the Falcons.

HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES: Dallas Cowboys close, but no cigar

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades - Dallas Cowboys close, but no cigar - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas – For three minutes of real time, I had already figured out what I wanted to say about this game.

And as long as that remarkable play was upheld and the Cowboys were awarded a touchdown, this one was going to go down as the all-timer of all-time games.

Maybe the first game I ever covered, the 1999 comeback against the Redskins with the overtime ending, would’ve been better, but this game, would’ve probably beaten that out if, and only if, Dez Bryant’s hand hadn’t touched the back of the end zone.

But it did. Bryant was out of bounds. The Cowboys drop this heartbreaker game that had more twists and turns than any ride Six Flags could’ve ever produced.

Giants 29, Cowboys 24.

Dallas obviously couldn’t complete the comeback, although the scoreboard did read 30-29 Cowboys for about three long minutes while the officials looked at Bryant’s catch. And whether or not it counted, it was still an amazing catch by a player who also had an up-and-down game.

If you’re reading this, there’s probably a great chance that you hated the outcome of this game. The great comeback, the records that were broken in the process, all of that means nothing in the end. The Cowboys couldn’t do enough to win this one, and now they’re 3-4 and three games behind the Giants in the win column.

But mark this one down as a classic.

It had everything the average football fan wants to see: great plays, great performances in the clutch, big stats, back-and-forth play where the lead changes hands, and the drama in the end.

I know it was a sickening feeling when the announcement was made that Bryant didn’t get his hand in bounds. The only real question was how injured he was when he landed straight on his backside.

For me, what I keep thinking about is how much this game mirrored the careers of both Bryant and Tony Romo. And actually, it’s also a good example just how the Cowboys are as a team right now.

At 3-4, it’s competitive. It’s got some good, but just a little more of the bad. There are times when it looks like the Cowboys are left for dead, and then they make it seem like they’re going to turn the corner. In the end, it’s just not good enough.

That’s exactly what occurred Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. And, that’s probably what this team will be when it’s all said and done.

Of course, this one started out completely disastrous with the Cowboys turning it over four times in the first half, trailing 23-0.

Forget boo-birds. This was like a flock of pigeons that invaded the stadium. And they were ruthless toward Romo, owner Jerry Jones even head coach Jason Garrett. They were hounding the Cowboys and for good reason.

It looked like this was going to be a long day, long week and a long season. (Actually, it might be in all three cases).

But then, the Cowboys begin what proved to be the ultimate tease. They unlocked the coffin they had been placed in, dug out of the dirt that had been poured, and rose from the dead, not just to make this respectable, but to take the lead.

Just as shocking to see a 23-0 deficit was a 24-23 Cowboys lead.

But no one thought Eli Manning and his group would go away and they didn’t. They are champions for a reason because they know how to handle adversity. Manning wasn’t great at all, but he drove the offense a couple of times and got his team in position to take the lead and then pad it.

On the other side, Romo was on his way to pulling off the greatest comeback in Cowboys history. After that awful start, it looked like his confidence was shot. Who knew he was about to have a career-high in passing yards (437) and attempts (62). In fact, if Bryant is ruled in bounds, Romo would’ve set the single-game passing record with 474 yards.

Yet, that’s his career. He allllmooossstt pulled it off.

He was almost spectacular. Isn’t that the biggest knock on Romo – is that he can be great and he can be awful? Usually, it’s week to week.

On Sunday, it was a matter of hours. Romo’s best performance came after his worst performance. And that’s why this guy drives people crazy.

He’s the guy that gives it up, but he’s the guy that brings them back. He was bad enough to get booed and probably have his coach consider pulling him. He was good enough to rally his team back and had the ball in a spot to win the game and pull off the greatest comeback in franchise history.

Good enough and bad enough in a matter of hours. That’s Romo’s career.

And it’s about the same with Bryant. When you look at the reasons he was drafted in the first round back in 2010, we saw them all here in this game.

He had top-10 talent, evident by his unreal catch in the most clutch of situations. Forget the yard lines. If you catch a ball like that in the backyard playing One-Mississippi, it’d be a great catch.

But he has questionable decision-making – both on and off the field. His misplay on a first-quarter punt, resulting in a muff and then fumble, got him booted as the punt returner. Yet, with the game on the line, and him making some key receptions as a receiver, the Cowboys put him back out there when they needed a huge return. And the Giants recognized that and kicked it away from him.

Even the longtime radio voice of the Cowboys, Brad Sham, said on his broadcast Sunday following Bryant’s fumble that it’s time for him to be on the bench.

There’s no way Sham really believes that, but that’s how frustrating it can be to watch this guy, cover this guy through the media, cover this guy as a defense. He’s just erratic in every way – the good can be so good and the bad can be so bad.

Sunday’s 29-24 thriller was the Cowboys’ franchise. Up and down but not good enough. It also seemed to mirror the careers of both Romo and Bryant. So much potential, but yet teased at the end.

Maybe you saw four quarters of dramatic football. I saw the careers of two key players and an entire franchise rolled into one.

PAST SUNDAY REVIEW: Upcoming games offer new outlook for Cowboys next five

Without a doubt, when you first looked at the schedule back in April, this five-game stretch that now awaits the Dallas Cowboys had to stick out first and foremost.

The Next Five - Dallas Cowboys 2012-2013 Schedule - The Boys Are Back blog

And here we are, with the Cowboys having a 2-2 mark and about to take on this five-game journey that includes four road games, sandwiched around a home game with the defending-champion Giants, who haven’t lost at Cowboys Stadium.

Brutal? Yeah maybe, if this team comes out and plays flat like it did against Seattle and at times the last two weeks.

But winnable? Of course. You can be scared of the Ravens defense all day long – and should be. They’ve been good for so long and the same guys are still making big plays for them.

But a whopping nine points against the Chiefs on the road? I know what you’re thinking, they scored what they needed to. They did just enough to win.

The Cowboys will certainly have their hands full with the Ravens when they go to Baltimore next Sunday. It’ll be tough on the road at Atlanta, Philly and Carolina. The Giants at home will also be a battle, considering Eli Manning and his group is 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium.

But in this stretch of the next five games, those five opponents went 3-2 on Sunday. The Falcons gutted out a tough win over an RG3-less Redskins team while the Panthers lost at home to Seattle and the Eagles dropped a close one to the Steelers.

Looking at the flip side, every fan of those five teams will be looking at the Cowboys and how they’ve played the last three weeks and probably figure to get a W for their team, too.

It’s how it goes.

But judging from the games Sunday. The Cowboys shouldn’t be scared of any of those five teams. And none of them will be scared of this one either.

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