Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cowboys vs. Falcons Preview

Source: CBS SportsLine

While the Dallas Cowboys had a profitable bye week, they know it's up to them to make it really pay off.

The Atlanta Falcons should provide an excellent example of the kind of improving team they'd like to become.

The Falcons will get their first look at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday against a Dallas squad that has won its two previous games following byes under coach Wade Phillips.

Dallas (3-2) had Week 6 off and watched the other teams in the NFC East all lose. That put the Cowboys into a second-place tie with Philadelphia, 1 1/2 games behind the New York Giants.

"It just shows you that you've got to play well each week," Phillips said. "You can be favored and all those things, but you've got to play well to win ballgames. ... It's tough to win in this league. I've said it all along - I think winners come through. I think that's the big key, being consistent."

That's something Dallas hasn't been, alternating wins and losses this season. All three of the Cowboys' victories have been against winless teams and they needed overtime in the most recent one, 26-20 at Kansas City on Oct. 11.

One bright spot, though, has been the pass rush gaining steam. They had no sacks in their first two games before recording 10 in the next three.

That could be a major factor against Atlanta (4-1), which hasn't allowed a sack in its last four games after Matt Ryan was dropped twice in its opener.

"Yes, this is our fourth straight week with no sacks," coach Mike Smith said about Sunday's 21-14 home win over Chicago. "Again, that's attributed to our offensive line, quarterback, tight ends, and protection package that our coaching staff has put in."

The Falcons have been efficient in winning their last two games, allowing an average of 91.5 yards rushing. Star receiver Roddy White has gotten untracked with three touchdowns in that span after he had just one in his first three contests.

The Cowboys feel they may have found a No. 1 receiver in Miles Austin, whose first start two weeks ago was a memorable one. Austin had 10 catches for a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs, including a 60-yard TD in overtime.

"It was Miles' day," receiver Roy Williams said. "Players just come out of the woodwork in this offense. You never know who is going to have a big day."

That group could have a big day against the Falcons, who placed starting cornerback Brian Williams on injured reserve Tuesday with a knee injury. Atlanta is mulling over its options in the secondary.

"We've got some guys we feel are ready to step up into that role and it will be an opportunity for Tye Hill, Chevis Jackson and Chris Owens to get some more playing time," Smith said. "We'll have a different look with our 45-man roster when we get to Dallas this week."

This game has extra meaning for Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking, a Georgia native who played college football at Georgia Tech before he spent his first 11 seasons with the Falcons. Brooking signed with Dallas in the offseason and has been a major addition to Phillips' defense with a team-high 29 solo tackles.

"I'd be lying to you if I was like, 'Ah, I'm not trying to prove to those guys that I can still do it at a high level,'" he said. "But that's not my priority. ... I'm 12 years into my career. That window of opportunity is narrowing every passing day. I know I'm much closer to the end of my career than the beginning. I just want to enjoy these last few years and get the most out of every day and cherish every moment."

The Cowboys have the league's second-rated offense and third-rated rushing attack, but quarterback Tony Romo has only six touchdown passes this year. His counterpart, Ryan, has nine TDs and a better quarterback rating and completion percentage.

"It's time to exert ourselves and get an identity for our team," running back Tashard Choice said. "We need a big push for the second quarter (of the season). We've got to be ready to make a move, to get ourselves on track."

Dallas has won six of the last nine meetings, with Romo throwing for 278 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-28 victory Dec. 16, 2006, in the most recent one.