At last, we will get to see the Cowboys play a regular season game in their new stadium during the day. And even though a few starters (Gerald Sensabaugh, Marion Barber, and Leonard Davis) will wear casts on their fractured thumbs, Dallas should field all their weapons on Sunday against Atlanta.
During this morning's press conference, Coach Phillips indicated that Felix Jones will return to his normal role, which "could be quite a bit" - the only difference being that he will wear a brace on his knee during the game. Phillips feels good about the way Jones has practiced this week, saying that he looks "fast" and "moves well".
Phillips does seem concerned with the status of Roy Williams (ribs). He said he can tell the wide receiver has been practicing with pain. Although Williams said he wants to play and feels like he can, Phillips said he is the only guy that "could or could not" play. Today's practice will determine that.
On the other side of the ball, the Atlanta running backs are a bit banged-up.
Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli didn't practice Thursday for the second straight day because of a calf injury and could be sidelined against Dallas. Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner was on the field, but a chest injury limited his participation.
The Falcons expect No. 2 running back Jerious Norwood to miss the Cowboys game with a hip flexor.
More Falcons @ Cowboys after the jump.
With the season-ending loss of CB Brian Williams, the Falcons will turn to former Ram, Tye Hill, amongst others to fill in the secondary.
Coach Mike Smith says the loss of Williams creates an opportunity for Hill, Chevis Jackson and rookie Chris Owens.
"With the loss of Brian we have to have contingency plans," Smith said.
The Falcons’ unofficial depth chart released on Wednesday listed Brent Grimes and Chris Houston as the starting cornerbacks. Jackson is expected to play nickel back, the role he held in his 2008 rookie season. Jackson replaced Williams against the Bears and gave up a touchdown pass on his first play. He said he is confident he’ll be ready for a return to a more prominent role.
The Atlanta defense features many young players, including safety Thomas DeCoud.
"He went through his reading of the route progression and played the ball," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "It's good to see Thomas, a young player, a third-round draft pick, second year in the league, make plays like that. Good to see these young guys continue to progress and start making plays like that."
Nose tackle Thomas Johnson, linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Brent Grimes are also in their second season. Defensive end Jamaal Anderson and linebacker Stephen Nicholas are in their third year.
All eyes will be on Matt Ryan.
Matt Ryan's 96.5 passer rating is ranked 10th overall in the league. That is including his 19-for-33 completions for 185 yard performance last week. That was Ryan’s worst week since Week 3, when he threw for 199 yards. Ryan bounced back after Week 3 to explode against the 49ers for 329 yards and 110 passer rating. Watch to see if Ryan bounces back from last week and returns to his subtle but stellar play.
Keeping Matt Ryan upright has been the key to the Falcons' offense since their season 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.
Coach Phillips is well aware of Atlanta's offensive tendencies to switch things up with some no-huddle.
[C]oming off the bye week, Phillips has some worry about the timing being off on both sides of the ball. To help them, Phillips had the defense work against the hurry up and they worked in two-minute drills on both sides of the ball.
The Dallas defenders should know what to expect.
Cowboys' linebacker Keith Brooking, who left Atlanta via free agency in the off-season, likened it to Peyton Manning's patient no-huddle in Indianapolis.
"They get up to the ball quick and you've got to be ready because they will snap it with a quick count every now and then," Brooking said. "But for the most part they're looking at the defense, seeing what the defense is giving them and Matt's making checks. He has a few calls that he can go to and then they snap the ball.
"But for the most part you have a chance defensively to kind of collect yourself and get in the right position to make your checks and get ready for the ball to be snapped."
Gerald Sensabaugh vs. Tony Gonzalez will be a key matchup.
"He's real athletic," Sensabaugh said. "He has good hands, runs pretty good routes and uses his body pretty well."
Sensabaugh won't be the only defender concentrating on Gonzalez. Phillips plans to double him as much as possible.
"That's something I've been used to my whole career," Gonzalez said. "Whatever they want to do, hopefully we can adjust and move the ball down the field."
Falcons coach Mike Smith isn't surprised Sensabaugh is trying to return so quickly after surgery. "Gerald is one of the toughest guys I've coached," said Smith, who was Jacksonville's defensive coordinator when the Jaguars drafted Sensabaugh in 2005. "My experience coaching Gerald was, you're going to basically have to cut a limb off to keep him off the field."
It looks like ILB Jason Williams could be inactive for the game.
So the only other new guy figuring to play against the Falcons includes newly-signed return specialist Allen Rossum. So who does he replace? The best guess is rookie linebacker Jason Williams, who was not on the kickoff or punt teams during Wednesday and Thursday at practice. That’s usually the first sign for a guy not expected to play.
Bob Sturm analyzes the Falcons in great detail on his Inside Corner.
Here's the series history between the two teams.
Dallas leads the all-time regular season series with Atlanta, 13-8, including a 38-28 road victory when the teams last met, in Week 15 of the 2006 season. The Falcons won the previous two head-to-head meetings, including a 27-13 triumph when it last visited Dallas in 2003. The Cowboys' most recent home win in the series came in 1999.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met twice in the postseason, with the Cowboys winning NFC Divisional Playoff matchups with the Falcons in 1978 and 1980.
The Falcons @ Cowboys is set to kickoff on Sunday at 4:15 EST.
It’s technically not nationally televised, but the game will be called by FOX’s No. 1 crew of Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver.