ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons' defense has one primary goal entering Sunday's game against Dallas: Slow down Ezekiel Elliott and make Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott try to beat them with his arm.
The Falcons will need all their resources to corral Elliott, who leads the NFL with 93 runs of 10 or more yards over the last three years.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn says his defense, which gave up 211 yards rushing in last week's loss at Cleveland, must maintain gap control against a patient, powerful running back.
"He can wait to set up a block and stick his foot in the ground and really explode," Quinn said. "Oftentimes, you can see him take a handoff and see a read about to happen, then he can change the direction and really explode. I would say the second piece of that is he's really effective as a pass catcher, too."
Atlanta's struggling defense should get a boost from the return of middle linebacker Deion Jones, who hasn't played since breaking his right foot in the season opener. When healthy, Jones is the Falcons' best defender. He calls the plays, is stout against the run and is fast enough to cover running backs and receivers in coverage.
Jones' injury and season-ending surgeries for starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have been too much for the Falcons to overcome. They rank third-worst in average yards allowed and fourth-worst in scoring average.
Elliott is coming off a dazzling performance — 19 runs and six catches for 187 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns — in a win at Philadelphia. But the Cowboys had to stay the course early when Elliott had just seven yards through the team's first two possessions.
"Honestly, at the beginning, it was a little bit tough sledding," Elliott said. "We made some good adjustments. We have to have the same mentality going into this game."
Dallas' defense faces a tough challenge in matching up against Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and star wideout Julio Jones, who has reached 10,000 yards receiving quicker than any player in NFL history.
So, there isn't much wiggle room for either team. Both are 4-5 and trying to stay in the playoff hunt.
Here are things to know about the Cowboys-Falcons matchup:
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