Cowboys bid for fourth straight win, face Falcons
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons have to feel as though they are looking in the mirror when they assess each other this week.
Both teams have prolific offenses that put them high on the list of divisional favorites when the season began. But the Cowboys and Falcons have struggled to find their rhythm consistently and therefore are looking up at rivals leading their respective divisions.
So it's no surprise that the opposing coaches see a lot to like in the other.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn heaped praise on the Cowboys' running game during the week.
"The scheme's not so unusually different, but they're really performing up front at a high level and the running back is a factor in that too," Quinn said. "Like most times, when the run game's really going well, it's a combination of the line playing well and the backs playing well, and I think that's a clear illustration of that."
Likewise, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett blurted out rapid-fire compliments of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones when he met with the media on Wednesday.
"I just think he's a rare player," Garrett said about Jones. "He's rare physically. He's so big and strong. He's fast. He's quick. He's explosive. He's a great route runner, unbelievable competitor."
However, aside from the mutual admiration, the Falcons and the Cowboys each have a pressing need to defeat the other when they meet on Sunday afternoon at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Atlanta (4-5) has lost four of five games after a hot start.
Despite an arsenal of proven offensive players, the Falcons struggled to move the chains last week in a 20-17 loss at Carolina. Atlanta converted just 4 of 15 opportunities on third and fourth down, including a pair of costly failures in the fourth quarter.
"We've got lots of work to do," Quinn said. "We're pleased that we improved in the red zone offensively. But third down, we improved defensively, but offensively we still have much work to do."
Conversely, Dallas (5-3) has started to regain its momentum from last season. The Cowboys have won three straight, including a 28-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
But Dallas has to continue winning in order to keep up with the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys trail Philadelphia by two games and, though the NFC East rivals still have both of their head-to-head matchups ahead of them, Dallas probably can't afford to fall further behind in the standings.
Dallas fans can take solace in the fact that quarterback Dak Prescott is shining in his second season in the NFL. Prescott has completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 1,818 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
"I think he's improved across the board," Garrett said. "So much of it has to do with the experience he's had. ... He plays in these games and does a lot of good things and builds on those things. He does some things that aren't exactly what we want or what he wants and he learns from them."
Of course, the Ezekiel Elliott saga is still hanging over Dallas.
Last week, Elliott appeared to be starting a six-game suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy. Then, for the third time this season, the NFL Players Association won a court appeal that allowed Elliott to play versus Kansas City. Elliott made good on the opportunity, rushing for 93 yards and a touchdown.
"He looked very comfortable out there and played with confidence and really in so many ways helped us control that game with his physicalness as a runner," Garrett said.
However, Elliott's status remains in limbo with a hearing on Thursday that could result in an immediate decision and the beginning of his suspension. Or Elliott could win a preliminary injunction in the appeals court and possibly continue playing for the rest of the season.
That sort of uncertainty has become the norm for Dallas this season.
Meanwhile, in the Atlanta locker room, the Falcons are focusing inward.
"It comes down to us, the way we execute, the way we attack," Quinn said. "That's what I told the team today. Where we go from here will depend entirely on (the team's attitude) and how we go and attack."
Updated November 8, 2017