Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is not relishing the long wait in the hotel room before facing the Dallas Cowboys at 8:20 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome, but he
plans to be ready with the bright lights come on.
“Night games are fun,” Ryan said. “They really are. Especially, in the Dome. Our fans are crazy when we have night games. It’s a great environment to play in.”
This will be the Falcons’ second appearance in a nationally televised night game this season. They defeated the Denver Broncos 27-21 on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 17.
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What have you seen of Dallas’ defense on film?
A: It’s still a really, really good defense. They have one of the best pass rushers in the game in (outside linebacker) DeMarcus Ware. They’ve got two really good corners and very good safeties, too. It’s one of the best defenses that you see.”
Q: How does defensive tackle Jay Ratliff look?
A: Last week against the Giants he played extremely well. He looked healthy and was flying around.
Q: What do you think of rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne?
A: When you turn on the tape he’s one of those guys playing with a lot of confidence. They put their guys in position to play a lot of man coverage. He’s a very quick, very good corner, very good ball skills, and has another really good corner (in Brandon Carr) on the other side, too.
On their plane ride back from Philadelphia on Sunday night, the Falcons watched the Dallas Cowboys’ game against the New York Giants.
They watched the Cowboys’ rally fall short.
But as tight end Jason Witten’s catches continued to mount, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon looked over at strongside Stephen Nicholas, who will have the primary responsibility for Witten in most passing situations, and they started to shake their heads.
“He was on fire last week,” Nicholas said. “We just want to maintain and keep doing the things that we need to do.”
When Witten, the seven-time Pro Bowler, was finished, he had caught 18 passes for 167 yards. As the focal point of the Cowboys offense, he’ll be the X-factor in Sunday’s game.
Witten ranks second on the Cowboy’s all-time receptions and receiving-yards charts.
“I have all of the respect for him,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “He plays the position the way it’s supposed to be played. He’s definitely, without a doubt, a dual tight end.
“That means he blocks and catches and obviously where the state of the tight end is at in the NFL right now. I mean a lot of these guys are just catching passes, so I love seeing a guy like him blocking and catching the ball and doing both things very, very well.”
Witten has 747 career receptions for 8,396 yards and is on pace to take the top spot on the receptions chart from Michael Irvin.
With wide receiver Dez Bryant developing slowly, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not shy about getting the ball to Witten. He accounts for 456 catches and 5,263 yards of Romo’s 1,858 completions and 22,907 yards.
His 18 catches, which helped to lead a frenetic rally against the Giants, are tied for third-most in NFL history, the most by a tight end.
“He has a great feel for playing the position,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has not made a smooth transition to head coach.
His in-game decisions, which have included clock mismanagement earlier this season against Baltimore and some shaky play-calling last week against the Giants, has been questionable. That’s why he’s on the hot seat for Sunday’s game against the undefeated Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
Against Baltimore, a 31-29 loss, the Cowboys wasted 16 seconds in the final minute before calling a timeout. They ended up losing after missing a 51-yard field-goal attempt with two seconds left. The 16 seconds could have been used to work toward a shorter attempt.
Garrett’s play-calling down the stretch last week was heavily scrutinized. With the Cowboys on the Giants’ 19 and needing a yard for a first down, he threw three passes and turned the ball over on downs.
“You try to make sure the thought process and the preparation was right,” Garrett said. “Ultimately, you can’t control the outcome of an individual play and situation, but you want to make sure you’ve gone through the right way to prepare your team. If you do find out you didn’t handle it the right way, you better handle it the right way the next time.”
Garrett, a former backup quarterback with the Cowboys, has an 11-12 record, and some critics are starting to conclude that he might be in over his head.
Sunday will be an Ohio Valley Conference reunion for Falcons coach Mike Smith and Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Smith (Tennessee Tech) and Ryan (Tennessee State) coached against each other from 1989-93.
“There were some battles,” Smith said. “Rob’s a darn good football coach. He’s got a great defensive mind.”
There is a mutual respect between the coaches.
“Rob’s done an outstanding job with the defense there in Dallas,” Smith said. “Statistically, year in and year out, they’re going to be at the top of the league.”
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The point about whether Matt Ryan will become an elite quarterback is becoming moot with his spectacular play this season.
Ryan’s passer rating of 103.0 ranks third in the NFL behind Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s 109.0 and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers’ 107.9.
Against Kansas City, the Falcons scored on their first eight possessions. Against Philadelphia, the Falcons scored on their first six possessions.
They have scored a touchdown on the opening drives of four games, including a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive last week against the Eagles that wiped nearly nine minutes off the clock.
Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown in 22 consecutive games, which is the third-longest active streak in the NFL behind New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (49) and New England quarterback Tom Brady (40).
Part of Ryan’s progression can be attributed to the Falcons incorporating the deep pass into their attack more this season.
With the threat of the deep ball, teams will pay for crowding the line of scrimmage. Ryan’s pass to wide receiver Julio Jones for a 63-yard touchdown against the Eagles was his longest scoring pass this season.
Ryan is coming off one his better games as a pro, as he completed 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards (75.9 percent) with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 137.4, the third-highest of his career.
The Falcons are 28-0 when Ryan’s quarterback rating is above 100, including five wins this season.
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