Pre-game burning questions: Can Falcons stick with run game vs. Cowboys?

With the Falcons and Cowboys set for a showdown, AtlantaFalcons.com writers Matt Tabeek, Kelsey Conway and Will McFadden discuss some of the game's key storylines.

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In just a couple of hours, the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) and the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) will kick things off as each team seeks its first win of the 2020 NFL season.

Despite improved play on the offensive and defensive lines, the Falcons couldn't contain Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks passing game in their 38-25 loss in Week 1. Dallas, meanwhile, came up short on a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter of its 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Cowboys' season opener. With the Falcons and Cowboys set for a Week 2 showdown in Dallas, AtlantaFalcons.com writers Matt Tabeek, Kelsey Conway and Will McFadden shared their thoughts on some of the game's key storylines.

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Will this be the game in which Hayden Hurst scores his first touchdown as a Falcon?

Kelsey Conway: I do for two reasons. I think after what Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage put on tape, the Cowboys will be trying to specifically focus on those three and that's going to leave Hayden Hurst with more opportunities. Also, listening to Hayden Hurst during his media availability, he seems to think he had a good week of practice and proved what he needed to prove to Dirk Koetter, so I think we'll see a heavy dose of Hayden today in Dallas.

Will McFadden: Sure, why not? Throughout training camp the area of the field where Matt Ryan and Hayden Hurst showed the most chemistry was down in the red zone, an area where the Falcons' new tight end looks to be a very serious threat for defenses. If Atlanta can get to the red zone a few times in Dallas, Hurst has a good bet to get a target or two. The Cowboys are also missing star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in this game, which should benefit Hurst.

Matt Tabeek: Well, I think it's definitely possible. I'd like to see the Falcons go to a faster-tempo game, and that means hitting more of those quick slants and working the middle of the field more. And that's Hayden Hurst territory. Will the Falcons call his number if they get into the red zone? He certainly looked like a capable option during training camp.

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Do you think the Falcons will be able to run the ball against the Cowboys?

Conway: If the Falcons stay ahead or keep the game close. The Falcons defense has to hold up so Atlanta has the chance to be balanced on offense and not turn one-dimensional. The Rams had a lot of success doing so and I think if the Falcons stay balanced and have success in the run game, they'll get their first win of the season.

McFadden: The run game was a big part of the Rams' successful game plan in Week 1. Los Angeles ran the ball 40 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns, complementing that run game with play-action passes that moved the pocket for quarterback Jared Goff. The Falcons want to build an offensive identity centered around those two aspects, and we saw how much they focused on running the ball in the first half against the Seahawks. I believe they will stick to the run game in Dallas and have success moving the ball.

Tabeek: The Falcons will need to run the football against the Cowboys, especially to help neutralize their pass rush. If they can establish the run, it'll open up the Falcons playbook, too. In short, a lot of good happens when teams can run the football. The chains move, they control the time of possession, defenses wear down, and pass rushers can't pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. I'm not sure if the Falcons will be able to, but it would certainly help their chances if they can.

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Which aspect of the Cowboys offense concerns you the most, Zeke or the three-headed monster at receiver?

Conway: Zeke, without question. He looked like the 2018 version of himself in Week 1 and if he's able to get some explosive runs early, I don't like that for the Falcons. I think the Falcons will generate enough pressure on Dak this week that I'm not as concerned with the three-headed monster at receiver. The last time the Falcons played the Cowboys, Zeke was a problem and the main reason for their win. He was the No. 4 overall pick for a reason.

McFadden: Despite the addition of CeeDee Lamb to a receiver group that already contained Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well as the switch to a more modern offensive philosophy under Kellen Moore, the Cowboys' identity on offense still runs through Ezekiel Elliott. He had a strong showing in Week 1, and Dallas will get him plenty of touches against Atlanta. The early struggles from the Falcons' secondary, however, does make the Cowboys' receiving trio a bit more daunting.

Tabeek: Without question it's Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys offense runs through Elliott. If the Cowboys can get Zeke going, that opens everything else up in their offense for Dak Prescott and Co., much like I noted above with Gurley and the Falcons offense.

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