The Atlanta Falcons (2-0) and Dallas Cowboys (2-0) match up on Sunday in what should have been the marquee game of Week 3. Unfortunatel, Cowboys starters Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are sidelined with injuries.
Etiher way, a battle between undefeated NFC teams will always be exciting, and this game features defensive units playing better football than expected. The Cowboys are hoping that backup quarterback Bradon Weeden's impressive Week 2 performance can carry over to a full game. The Falcons want to keep things rolling with a heavy dose of Julio Jones on offense and a defense that swarms to the ball.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Falcons and Cowboys.
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1. Pressure Weeden
No Romo, no Bryant. The Falcons have to be happy to be facing Weeden, simply because it means Romo is nowhere to be found. Even though Weeden is the backup in Dallas, the Falcons still need to find a way to get pressure in his face. The less time Weeden has to react, the more likely it is that he turns the ball over. Throughout his career Weeden has thrown 28 interceptions. In his lone season as a full-time starter, he threw 14 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Atlanta needs to force turnovers.
2. Don't give up on the run game
The Falcons will be without starting running back Tevin Coleman, who was off to a good start in 2015. This means that second-year RB Devonta Freeman will get the nod. Things didn't go so well for Freeman last week, as he rushed 12 times for 25 yards. He did find the end zone, but whether it is Freeman or backup Antone Smith, the Falcons need to find a way to run the ball against the Cowboys. The more, and better they run the ball, the easier life gets for Matt Ryan and Jones.
3. Find a way to get Jones the ball
This is obviously easier said than done, especially when a defense keys in on a single player, but the Falcons have to find a way. Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and his connection with Ryan can't be understated. After a nine-catch, 141 yard performance with two scores in Week 1, Atlanta was still able to keep Jones rolling in Week 2, as he caught 13 balls for 135 yards. Jones will once again be the key to success offensively in Week 3.
1. Get Weeden into a rhythm
Although Weeden had a strong showing in relief of Romo, he struggled in his one opportunity to start during the 2014 regular season. Since entering the NFL, Weeden has struggled with diagnosing defenses and making the correct reads against the blitz. The Falcons defense keeps everything underneath, and the Cowboys would be smart to design short passing plays for Weeden to get the ball in the hands of his skill position players in space.
2. Use bracket coverage on Jones
In Week 1, the Cowboys used a defensive strategy specifically designed to take Odell Beckham Jr. out of the game. As a result, Beckham finished with 44 yards on five catches, and the entire Giants offense stalled. Jones has accounted for 276 yards of offense and two touchdowns through two weeks. If the Cowboys can take him out of the game, it takes the Falcons out of their comfort zone.
3. Get tight end Gavin Escobar involved
Through two weeks, the Falcons have had trouble containing tight ends Zach Ertz and Larry Donnell -- the two have combined for seven catches, 74 yards and a touchdown. Now that the Cowboys are without Bryant, and starting tight end Jason Witten is playing hurt, it's time to get Escobar more involved on offense.