ATLANTA -- The Falcons have placed an added emphasis on third-down and red-zone situations in practice over the past few weeks, and that work payed off in a big way during Sunday night's 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta's offense moved the ball well against a good Dallas defense, gaining 336 total yards and blending together a nice mix of run and pass. Most importantly, however, the Falcons (5-4) executed in the two key areas they've worked at in practice.
"We've worked hard at third down and red zone," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We've still got work to do, but I was pleased to see some of that work come through today, especially offensively."
The Falcons were 7-of-13 on third downs against the Cowboys (5-4), a conversion rate of 54 percent. That number is slightly misleading, though, because Atlanta wasn't as aggressive on third downs with a lead in the fourth quarter. Through the first three quarters, the Falcons converted 70 percent of their third-down opportunities.
In the red zone, Atlanta's progress has been apparent. Since a tough outing inside of the 20-yard line against the Jets, the Falcons have gone a combined 5-of-6 over the last two weeks against the Panthers and the Cowboys. On Sunday, Atlanta scored touchdowns on three of its four trips inside the red zone.
"I thought we just executed better than we have all year," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "When we had our opportunities to make plays guys stepped up across the board and executed the way that we needed to. I felt like we had been close throughout the year; I'd been saying that, but we hadn't been making the plays when they presented themselves. I thought today we did, and we showcased what we're capable of doing if we go out and execute at the level we're capable of."
Despite losing running back Devonta Freeman to a concussion on their first drive of the game, the Falcons overcame a determined Cowboys defense.
Tevin Coleman led the way on the ground for Atlanta, gaining 83 yards on 20 carries and scoring a 1-yard touchdown just before halftime. Ryan was extremely efficient through the air, completing 76 percent of his passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He spread the ball around well, with seven players catching at least one pass.
It was a promising performance to start the second half of the season, which includes five remaining divisional games and matchups with the Seahawks (6-3) and Vikings (7-2). Quinn talks often about good teams getting better as the season progresses, and the Falcons showed improvement in several key areas against the Cowboys.
"I've been pleased with our preparation, and we needed to now take the next step and make sure that carried over into the game," Quinn said. "And make sure our identity, the way we want to run it, the play-action, offensively, get our speed and the ability to create some takeaways, defensively – let's make sure that came out loud and clear. "We recognized we hadn't played our best, so we knew we had work to do. And if we thought we could make some improvements in some areas, the results would take care of themselves."