The Houston Texans (1-2) will look to even their record on the road against the Atlanta Falcons (3-0) on Sunday. Interestingly, both teams are actually tied for first place in their respective divisions, making this one more intriguing. While the Texans got their lone win thanks to stellar defense, the Falcons most recent win came from an offensive explosion led by Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Texans and Falcons.
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1. Do whatever you can to slow down Julio Jones
Jones is off to a blistering start, catching 34 passes for 440 yards. Whether defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel decides to put Kareem Jackson or Johnathan Joseph on Jones, whoever draws the assignment will need help. If Jones has another big day, the Texans are likely in for a long afternoon.
2. Keep on running
While Atlanta's offense is explosive, the defense has proven itself susceptible, particularly to the run. The Falcons have given up an NFL-high six rushing touchdowns. That's good news for a Houston running attack that may see Arian Foster return to the lineup. If Foster doesn't make his season debut, Alfred Blue is coming off a huge week, running for 139 yards and touchdown last week against Tampa Bay.
3. Win third downs
Atlanta's offense has the NFL's second-best, third-down conversion rate at 53 percent. The Houston defense, on the other hand, has been successful at getting off the field on third downs 79 percent of the time. That trails only the Denver Broncos. If the Texans can cut the Falcons' drives short at a similar clip, they'll put themselves in a position to win.
1. Feed the beast
It's that simple. As the old saying goes, "if it's not broke, don't fix it." Jones, well, he's been the best wide receiver in the entire NFL to this point. He has lit it up, but the question is, can he do it against a Houston defense that currently ranks in the top 12 of the NFL in passing yards allowed per game? Jones will be the talking point all week, but don't be surprised to see him get all the targets he can handle from Matt Ryan.
2. Get to Ryan Mallett
The Falcons are tied for the third-fewest sacks with four. If they are able to get to Mallett and either get him on the ground or cause a few errant throws, it could make a huge difference in the outcome of this game. Atlanta's defense has stepped up when it matters most, but let's see if the pass rush can start off hot and make Mallett's life tough for four quarters.
3. Open up the running lanes again
The Falcons did a stellar job of getting their run game going against the Dallas Cowboys in the 39-28 victory. The fact that Freeman rushed 30 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns made life easier on everyone. Specifically, Ryan and Jones were able to hook up often after Freeman got the ball rolling in the run game. Expecting 140-plus yards and multiple scores again might be unrealistic, but Freeman should be able to help ease the pressure on the passing game.