Sunday afternoon, the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons will face the 5-3 Dallas Cowboys without star running back Ezekiel Elliott. A panel of three judges on the 2nd Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals denied Zeke’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking his six-game suspension stemming from domestic violence accusations. Elliott is officially placed on the suspended list for the next six games, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He will be eligible to return to action Dec. 24 against Seattle.
With that established, the Falcons have a golden opportunity to climb into the NFC playoff picture. The Dirty Birds currently sit in 8th place in the NFC, two clear games out of the sixth and final playoff spot with eight games remaining in the season. This week, Head Coach Dan Quinn made the team’s identity a focal point this week.
“For you, our fans, our family, when everybody watches us play it’s really clear that identity comes across [with a] kick-ass run game, the play-action that goes with it, the speed we want to feature on defense, the ability to rush the passer, and the speed on special teams,” Quinn said Thursday afternoon at his press conference. “Every time we go for anyone that’s watching our team, we want to make sure that is always coming across, and it’s not at the level that we want it to be. That is what we talked about. Although [with] the preparation there is a lot for Dallas, the focus of this week is on us.”
If the Falcons accomplish everything Quinn talked about, they should walk away with a win Sunday.
Currently, Matt Ryan has completed 65.7% of his passes for 2157 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is currently 7th in the NFL in passing. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both are averaging above 4.5 yards per carry. However, they have not been featured enough in the running game for Quinn’s liking.
Wide-receiver Julio Jones is 5th in the NFL with 658 receiving yards. However, he’s only got one touchdown this season. Expect a breakout game from him because the Cowboys defense gives up 223 passing yards per game.
Meanwhile, the Falcons have to focus on a Dallas Cowboys running attack that will feature Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith. The Cowboys have planned for this event since August 11th, the day the NFL first announced Elliott’s suspension. However, Elliott has 191 of the 215 carries by the Cowboys’ running backs this season. He has 783 of the running backs’ 968 yards. Morris has 14 carries this season and had just one last week. Smith has 10 carries on the season and had none last week. McFadden has not been active for a game yet this season. Dallas has to run the ball in order for quarterback Dak Prescott to be even more effective as a passer. Quinn believes free agent signee Dontari Poe can help with that.
“I’ve seen a guy who’s really equipped to play a number of different roles,” Quinn said. “He can play defensive tackle, he can slide in to play nose tackle, he’s equipped to play two-gap, one-gap. At his best is when he can really get his hands on you and shed blockers to make tackles. We’re still trying to feature him into our ways that we can get him into some more pass rushing opportunities because that’s a part of his game that’s alive as well.”
The Atlanta Falcons will face off against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Kickoff is 4:25pm.