As good as the Falcons offense looked against the Chiefs on Sunday, one thing that was seriously missing was great production from the running game. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the Falcons throw the ball as often and as effectively as they did against Kansas City, but in order to be able to set up the big passes and not simply leave Matt Ryan on a tee for opposing defenders, they are going to have to discover production from their run game.
For all the talk about pushing the ball down the field, throwing the ball more, and reducing Michael Turner’s carries, you’d think the Falcons were going to abandon running the football altogether and throw it every down. I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not going to happen.
The Falcons will throw the ball more this season, but they are not going to turn into a team who completely forgets about the run. It’s not like there is anything wrong with gaining yardage on the ground; on the contrary it is a very good thing. The most important thing is that it allows teams to set up the pass. I think that is where the Falcons are going to benefit most from running the ball this season. At least that is how Atlanta wants to use the run this year.
Atlanta was just good enough running the ball against the Chiefs to make Kansas City respect the run, and bite on play-action passes. Rare was the occasion where they gained more than two or three yards on a run play, but they real key is that they gained two or three yards on nearly every single run play. That is something the Falcons are going to have to continue to do, but also improve upon.
None of the running backs really got more than a handful of carries until the game was out of hand. But while the game against Kansas City was still relatively competitive, I noticed two things about the backs.
The first was that Michael Turner looked really slow, showed little to no ability to juke and elude tacklers, and seemed to get stonewalled far too often. He has never been an elite speed runner, but he couldn’t run away from tacklers, and he just got bottled up and tackled too many times. Hopefully the Falcons have another idea of what to do and how to best use his talents to get the tough yards, because they desperately need that from him.
The second was that Jacquizz Rodgers looked really good running between the tackles, something that I honestly did not expect from him. He is a little guy, but he runs much tougher than his size, and also does a really good job eluding tackles. Perhaps his greatest benefit is that while he can run between the tackles well, he is also valuable as a check down receiver, and can catch screen passes making the first defender miss and spring for a bigger gain. The ability to be just as likely to throw the ball as run the ball on a given down is invaluable, and increases the Falcons odds of fooling the defense especially when Rodgers is on the field. When Turner is on the field they are either going to run the ball or throw to the other receivers; defenses don’t really have to respect him as a receiver.
One way or the other, the Falcons are going to have to become more balanced on offense. That doesn’t necessarily mean running the ball more often; it simply means that on 23 rushing plays, the Falcons are going to have to average more than just 3.7 yards per carry on the ground. If they can do that, there is no limits to the heights that this offense can reach.