Defense Recovers By Sticking to Gameplan

The Falcons and Cowboys kickoff at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the third week of the 2015 season. Check out these pictures of the game.

Atlanta gave up 131 rushing yards in the opening half against the Cowboys, as Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and their league-best offensive line set a tone by moving the ball at will. This success, along with Brandon Weeden's effective start, allowed them to find the end zone four times in the first 30 minutes.

But that pace didn't last. Thanks to some negative runs, Dallas lost four yards on the ground after intermission and failed to tack on another point. And the Falcons' offense, led by Devonta Freeman, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, became a well-oiled machine—one capable of mounting yet another big comeback.

As Jonathan Babineaux said, it was a tale of two halves.

The Cowboys had only 52 net yards of offense in the second half and, thanks to Atlanta's ability to milk the clock, just four possessions. Dallas' OL began to crack as the Falcons continued to battle at the line of scrimmage. Pass coverage improved. Tackling became more crisp. Suddenly those big holes for Randle evaporated, and Weeden could no longer go through his progressions while comfortably hanging in the pocket.

One may think the pendulum swung because the Falcons made significant changes at halftime. That wasn't the case, though; instead, they simply cleaned up mistakes—unnecessary penalties, missed tackles, bad reads—and came out of the locker room with the same approach with which they started.

"We didn't make any adjustments. That's the crazy thing," said free safety Ricardo Allen. "We came in here and we took a look at ourselves and realized that everything they got, we gave it to them."

This strategy illustrates how confident the Falcons are in their new system. And it lines up with Quinn's general mindset: Keep things simple, lean on physical ability.

The coaches had many reasons to wipe the slate clean after a tumultuous start, and it would have been impossible to fault them for doing so. But they trusted the initial blueprint, and they trusted their players, despite a slew of early challenges, to execute it.

"Honestly it was not so much big changes as we went through, as of much as playing our style," Quinn said. "We had some subtle changes that we went through, but there was not a wholesale change in terms of our style, how we played. We just played it a lot better."

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