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Five things to watch when the Falcons travel to face Dallas

The Falcons have an opportunity to get above .500, what do they need to do to get there against the Cowboys? 

Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts #8 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Friday November 12, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts #8 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Friday November 12, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

DALLAS -- After the Falcons beat the Dolphins in Miami a few weeks ago, they hosted Carolina to try to do something that hasn't happened since the end of 2017: Get above .500.

It didn't happen two weeks ago, as the Falcons lost to the Panthers at home. But an upset against a then 5-2 Saints team last Sunday has the Falcons back with a .500 record once again.


Never one to shy away from a business analogy, head coach Arthur Smith has said on a couple of occasions that the Falcons "haven't turned a profit yet." They have a chance to do so in Dallas on Sunday.

Until kickoff is upon us, though, let's take a look at five things to watch when the Falcons face the Cowboys.

1. Status updates of pass rushers, defensive linemen

The Falcons announced on Friday that Steven Means and Jonathan Bullard are doubtful to play on Sunday. Means suffered a knee injury last week in New Orleans and was limited in practice early in the week, but by the end of the week he didn't participate at all.

Bullard missed the Saints game as he was working through the league's concussion protocol. He is also listed as doubtful for Sunday's game.

Then, there'e the status of Dante Fowler to keep in mind, too. Fowler was designated to return to practice at the beginning of this week. He's been on injured reserve since after the Jets game in London when he suffered a knee injury. He practiced all week without any announced setback, and Smith said on Friday the staff would make a decision regarding his potential return on Saturday. Regardless of what happens with Fowler and Means, particularly, it's something to watch as the Falcons look to contain Dak Prescott.

2. The Kyle Pitts, Micah Parsons reunion

The last time these two met on a football field, Pitts was playing off the edge and Parsons was a running back. The two were in high school, and Pitts got the better of Parsons on that day.

"That still hurts my soul," Parsons said in a press conference on Wednesday, "so I definitely owe Kyle."

Now, the two superstar rookies meet again. This time Parsons is one of the most exciting young defenders in the league and Pitts is well on his way to breaking just about every rookie tight end league record.

For more on the reunion of Pitts and Parsons, you can read Kris Rhim's feature story here.

3. The continued emergence of AJ Terrell

After a year and a half of Terrell's solid performance for the Falcons at cornerback, the national media starting picking up on Terrell's 2021 stats this week. With graphics flooding Twitter, and TV segments breaking down his abilities, more and more people are talking about Terrell.

And they should be, what with Terrell having only given up 74 total yards this year (that's good enough for a first place slot amongst all corners in the NFL). Terrell is arguably playing as good as a corner can play in this league. How Prescott and the Cowboys' offensive attack accounts for this high-level of play will be something to watch on Sunday.

4. Can this defense stop Dak?

This is a really big key for this game as the Falcons defense has struggled to stop a mobile quarterback from doing damage in the run game after leaking out of the pocket.

It's an area that defensive coordinator Dean Pees said even before the Falcons New Orleans trip that he wanted to see improvement in. Pees said he wasn't as disappointed in the Falcons inability to stop designed run plays as he was a quarterback escaping the pocket. The Falcons have struggled at times to stop the run, too, but they showcased a bend-but-don't-break mentality against the Saints last weekend.

Though Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram had their rushing yards, the Falcons defense shut the Saints out in the first half. That's big for this defense to show that ability.

Against the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott, too, the Falcons have another challenge ahead defensively.

5. If there's an MVP of this offense, is it Matt Ryan or Cordarrelle Patterson?

Though this isn't technically something to watch (though watching Ryan and Patterson is always something to watch on game day) I wanted to leave you with this final query that was presented to me on a radio show this week. Who is it? If there's an MVP, is it Ryan or Patterson?

I struggled with the answer at first because you can't have one's success without the other. Ryan is playing as solid and consistent as he has in years. He's having an impressive season and he's doing so after a lot of noise in the offseason wanted the Falcons to draft his successor. But then there's Patterson, who's emergence as an offensive weapon has been the major storyline of 2021 league-wide.

And I guess that's where I finally landed: If I am picking an MVP of the first half of the season for the Falcons, it has to included a story as interesting as Patterson's. Can you blame me? I'm a storyteller at my core.

For the first time in nearly a decade in the league, an offensive play caller has cracked the Patterson nuclear codes. Smith has figured out how best to use Patterson, and to use him effectively. Patterson's stat line through the first half of the season is impressive: five touchdowns, 200-plus rushing yards, 450-plus receiving yards. Patterson is the spark plug of this offense, and he's always someone to watch every single Sunday. But don't forget Ryan's role in Patterson's success, too. He's getting the ball in his hands after all.


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