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Falcons to face third best rushing attack


And, for the second straight week, that team has a mobile quarterback who is capable of extending the play.

The difference between this week's opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, and last week's, the Chicago Bears, is that the Cowboys own the NFL's third-best running attack, at an average of 161 yards per game.

The Falcons must contend with the Cowboys' three-headed monster of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and former Georgia Tech star and Riverdale, Ga., native Tashard Choice that is the Cowboys' backfield. In the two games in which Dallas has played with all three of healthy, the Cowboys rushed for more than 250 yards.

Jones (knee) and Barber (thigh/thumb) had been battling injuries, but coming off the bye week their ability to practice was not limited and they should be near full health on Sunday.

"We got to get off blocks and tackle better in that ballgame and I think that's been the impetus since our bye week is that we have to address how we defend the run," Smith said of Dallas. "And this is an outstanding running team…We anticipate that they are going to try to make it what they do best and play to their strengths and that is run the football."

Getting off blocks and tackling -- it sounds like a simple case of execution. But not against an offensive line like Dallas' that averages 6-foot-6 and 327 pounds and that has received its share of acclaim.

Left tackle Flozell Adams has been a Pro-Bowler five of the last six seasons, center Andre Gurode has made three straight Pro-Bowls and right guard Leonard Davis, a massive 6 -6, 353-pounder has earned two straight Pro-Bowl appearances.

"It's easy saying it but it's a real tough, hard job," Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "We're going against those guys -- you know, big tough guys that Dallas always carries."

Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said he thinks the New England game was early in the season and that the defense was still jelling. And that there are other reasons why this game could be different.

"We went into the game expecting them to throw the ball a lot more," he said. "You know, Tom Brady and having [wide receiver Randy] Moss and the great tight ends. Our mindset might have been on throwing the ball, defending the pass a little more, when each game you should be going in thinking, 'Stop the run first. Stop the run first...'

"You see the results when you learn from it."

But Dallas is not just the running game. Quarterback Tony Romo has twice thrown for more than 350 yards in five games and the Cowboys' passing attack ranks ninth in the NFL. Wide receiver Miles Austin, newly inserted into the starting lineup, caught 10 passes for a franchise record 250 yards in a 26-20 win over Kansas City.

Romo and Austin will go against Chevis Jackson, perhaps starting for the first time at nickel this season with Brian Williams' injury, and potentially Tye Hill making his Falcons debut at cornerback.

With mobility, Romo brings a similar skill set to Cutler, said Falcons linebacker Coy Wire, but Dallas' scheme differs greatly from the Bears'.

"Cutler is mobile, but they do a lot of three-step passing so the ball is out of his hands quickly whereas Romo's -- they have some routes that take time to develop and that's why you'll see him have more time to scramble and make things happen with his feet," said Wire, who often enters the game in passing situations.

Wire said the Falcons pass rush must be relentless, since Romo can side step the first rusher, and defenders in coverage will have to stay with their man longer. Dallas' line is vulnerable to the pass rush. Denver recorded five sacks in the Broncos' 17-10 win over the Cowboys.

While the Falcons have not had the same kind of success with the run this season as they did last – and have not approached the Cowboys' success with it in 2009 -- nonetheless it will remain a focus.

With an average of 98.6 rushing yards per game, the Falcons rank 24th in the NFL. The Falcons could continue to be undermanned in that area as neither Jerious Norwood (hip) nor fullback Ovie Mughelli (calf), who missed last Sunday's game, practiced on Wednesday or Thursday.

Another concern for the running game is that Michael Turner fumbled for a fourth consecutive week in Sunday's 21-14 win over Chicago. Smith has said that the fumbles are more of a team problem than one individual's.

Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, who was the defensive coordinator in San Diego when Turner played there, also came to the back's defense.

"He's not a fumbler," Phillips said. "He carries the ball the right way all the time, so, yeah, I was surprised any time he fumbles."

"Everybody knows as a unit that we don't want to be the weak link of the team," added Turner. "We want to be productive. It's hard. This is the NFL. It's hard each week to go out and put up huge numbers."

One subplot of the game is the first match-up between Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking, who played 11 seasons with the Falcons and made five Pro-Bowls in Atlanta before departing via free agency this year, and his former team.

Brooking will possess inside knowledge of the Falcons' schemes and personnel.

"Just giving the guys some tips, especially strengths and weaknesses and things like that because I'm familiar with a lot of guys over there," Brooking said, "…Just letting them know how nasty [guard] Harvey Dahl and [tackle Tyson] Clabo are. Be careful with those guys because they sneak up on you in a heart beat."

Smith and center Todd McClure largely discounted how Brooking might be able to help, in terms of inside information.

"I don't know how much he'll be able to give them," McClure said. "I think he'll be able to tell them that we're physical and we play hard. I don't know how much he knows about stances, reading our stances, than any other week from watching film and looking at linemen."

As Brooking said, he has plenty to worry about in the Falcons offense. Dallas ranks 17th against the run and 26th against the pass. Despite their difficulties defending the pass, the Cowboys have strong personnel in that department.

Linebacker DeMarcus Ware has made three straight Pro-Bowl appearances leading the NFL with 20 sacks. He has been double- and triple-teamed this season and should test the Falcons' line, which has not yielded a sack in four straight games.

At cornerback, the Cowboys feature Terence Newman, a Pro-Bowler in 2007 who has four interceptions in each of the last two seasons.

In the big picture, the Falcons (4-1) are 1-1 on the road while Dallas (3-2) is 1-1 at home in Owner Jerry Jones' billion-dollar-plus new stadium. A win over the Cowboys would place the Falcons two games ahead of a potential conference rival for a Wildcard berth and deal the Cowboys a potentially devastating blow with games remaining on the road against New Orleans, the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Green Bay and home games with the Eagles and San Diego.

But a win would tie them in the standings and the Cowboys could be desperate.

"Biggest game of the year," Phillips said. "…I can't emphasize it any more.



Details on the Falcons and Cowboys running game


J. Mike and Matt preview some aspects of Falcons-Cowboys


Transcripts and more from game week


Stats to keep an eye on for Sunday's game


Additional notes to get you ready for Sunday


Video interviews and more Falcons-Cowboys multimedia


Injury updates on the Falcons and Cowboys



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