The Atlanta Falcons run defense was absolutely putrid through the first six games of the season. The Falcons were 28th in the NFL and giving up just over 140 yards per game on the ground. That’s really bad, and when you allow teams to have a balanced offense against you, it’s doubly bad. The Falcons defense has absolutely needed to improve its run defense.
Now the Falcons run defense has improved the last couple games. Not dramatically, and overall their run defense hasn’t improved markedly. They are still 24th in the NFL in run defense (127.5 yards per game on the ground to opponents), and that’s still not very good. Its in the bottom half of the league!
The last two games, however, they have improved. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Falcons only gave up 92 rushing yards, a big improvement. Against the Dallas Cowboys, things got even better when the Falcons only surrendered 65 yards on the ground. Even better, and it’s really hard to lose when you make an opponent’s offense completely one-dimensional. The Cowboys had no balance in their offense, and that really didn’t serve them well.
It’s easy to feel really good about those numbers. That the Atlanta run defense has improved greatly. But the fact remains that neither Dallas nor Philadelphia are particularly good at running the ball or have a great commitment to doing so. The Eagles are far better, and actually average 130 yards on 29 carries on a per game average. But if you watch the team you realize just how few times they really run the football. There are so many quick screens, reverses, the like, and it skews things. The Eagles don’t have a real commitment to power running, or running out of anything other than shotgun sets. The hit on some big plays because they have LeSean McCoy, but other than that they’d not be very good.
The Cowboys are far worse. They average only 23 carries per game, and 103 yards per game running. A lot of this has to do with their obsession with the shotgun formation, their great talent in the receiving corps, and their number of injuries in the backfield. This combo doesn’t exactly lend itself to productive running, and once that happens teams begin to stop trying to run the ball. Oh, did I mention that neither of those offensive lines are particularly good either?
Well, the fact of the matter is that we shouldn’t feel bad at all about an improved, albeit slightly improved, run defense. However, the improvement has come against two sub-standard running teams. The Falcons have gotten a slight improvement, and it’s important to keep building off these slight improvements. Let’s hope that the Falcons don’t let the Saints run on them.