Focal adhesions lie at the convergence of integrin adhesion, signaling and the actin cytoskeleton. Cells modify focal adhesions in response to changes in the molecular composition, two-dimensional (2D) vs. three-dimensional (3D) structure, and physical forces present in their extracellular matrix environment. We consider here how cells use focal adhesions to regulate signaling complexes and integrin function. Furthermore, we examine how this regulation controls complex cellular behaviors in response to matrices of diverse physical and biochemical properties. One event regulated by the physical structure of the ECM is phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) at Y397, which couples FAK to several signaling pathways that regulate cell proliferation, survival, migration, and invasion.