If Jason Garrett was standing on the sidelines of either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Cleveland Browns games against the Atlanta Falcons you can bet he would have told them they were “going about it the right way.” Running Backs Nick Chubb and James Conner proved to just be good football players in leading their team to victory over the Cowboys upcoming opponent. Their performance embodied the process Garrett tries to instill in his team daily. And it’s what the Cowboys will try to emulate Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Both Conner and Chubb eclipsed 100 yards against the Falcons 21st ranked run defense. Conner carried the ball 21 times for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Chubb went for 176 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Cleveland Quarterback Baker Mayfield was only asked to throw the ball 20 times in which he completed 17 of those passes with three touchdowns. The Browns ability to control the pace of the game on the ground and get Atlanta off the field on 3rd down held the Falcons to under 20 points for the first time in three 3 weeks. Atlanta was held to 5-of-14 on 3rd down while Matt Ryan was forced to put the ball in the air 52 times. After their second-quarter touchdown, their next four possessions would result in a fumble, punt, punt and turnover-on-downs.
The Browns offense was able to stay ahead of the chains on first and second down but still were able to convert 50% of their third-down attempts when needed. In addition to Chubb’s dynamic performance on the ground, he caught 3 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown. Much how the Cowboys offense has been structured this season, no receiver on the Browns registered more than four receptions on the afternoon. Mayfield added six carries on the day for 20 yards, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Dak Prescott featured more in the running game this week.
In the Falcons-Steelers week-5 matchup, Pittsburg jumped out in front of Atlanta early in large part to breakout-star James Conner. Of their eight first-drive plays, Conner touched the ball seven of those times with their final six plays all featuring him. He capped it off with a one-yard run for a touchdown. Their next touchdown drive he would only get the ball three of their 11 plays. However, they got right back to feeding him in the second half as in their final three touchdown drives he would see the ball 12 out of a possible 20 times. His high-usage rate within their offense would leave him with 4 receptions for 75 yards along with the 110 yards rushing he amassed throughout the game.
Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished 19-of-29 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. If Prescott can hover around the 250-yard mark to complement a heavily involved Ezekiel Elliot, the Cowboys will comfortably sit in the driver’s seat against Atlanta (4-5). In Atlanta’s four wins quarterbacks have thrown the ball 45, 41, 38 and 46 times against their defense. With those running backs got the ball 8, 13, 14 and 9 times with only one rushing for more than 50 yards (Peyton Barber – 82 yards).
The blueprint for the Cowboys has been laid out by two AFC teams who controlled their game from start to finish. A weakness of this Atlanta team is sure to be magnified by a Cowboys unit who is coming off of their best total offensive performance this season. Fortunately, Garrett has the right type of guys to follow their precedent. So until Sunday, I guess we’re going to just have to take it day-by-day.
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