For the first time in three weeks, the Atlanta Falcons have not ruled out linebacker Sean Weatherspoon — who was their leading tackler when he injured his ankle on Oct. 28 — for Sunday’s game.
Weatherspoon is instead listed as questionable, as is wide receiver Julio Jones, who has an ankle injury he suffered last Sunday at New Orleans. Neither player participated in practice all week.
On Wednesday, Weatherspoon began working on the field — but not in practice — with the team’s athletic performance staff. Each day this week, the Falcons expected to increase his workload in the hope of getting Weatherspoon ready for Sunday.
Head coach Mike Smith said both players could be game-time decisions and that he will not hold them out because they missed practice.
On Wednesday, Smith said the team wanted to keep Jones “off his feet.” Weatherspoon has not practiced since before he was injured.
By jumping out to an 8-1 start, the Falcons have afforded themselves the luxury of not having to press players back into action prematurely. They hold a three-game lead in the NFC South over second-place Tampa Bay and still own the NFC’s best record.
In terms of Weatherspoon, who has 58 total tackles and three sacks in seven games, the Falcons might not need to bolster their defense the way they would have the last two weeks when facing top offenses (Dallas and New Orleans). The Cardinals rank 31st in the NFL in total points per game (16.0), 31st in total offense, 32nd in rushing yards and 20th in passing yards (219.2 per game).
On top of that, the Cardinals ruled out quarterback Kevin Kolb, who will miss his fourth straight game with injured ribs. Kolb is 3-2 as the starter for the 4-5 Cardinals, who have lost five straight. John Skelton, who is coming off games in which he has posted the low quarterback ratings of 68.6 and 69.7, will get the start.
Against the Cardinals, Jones could be the bigger loss if he cannot play. Arizona’s defense ranks fifth in the NFL in scoring defense (19.2 per game), ninth in total defense (allowing opponents 320.7 yards per game) and 10th in passing yards per game (194.6). Fortuitously for the Cardinals, their weakness on defense, defending the run, is an area that has proved a struggle for the Falcons at times this season on offense.
Jones has 44 catches this season for 703 yards and five touchdowns and has shown big-play capability. In the last three games, he has posted catches of 63, 48 and 52 yards.