November 11, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
I recently read an article from ESPN’s NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, talking about the Falcons short-yardage struggles. I know that it’s something everyone has been really harping on all week long, but it’s the legitimate concern about this team. If the Falcons are able to convert in short yardage situations, they would be 9-0, do doubt about it.
Now it’s not possible to convert every single short yardage situation. That’s just obvious, and it’s common sense. But it’s necessary (as well as expected) that you can be in the 60% range. According to Yasinskas, the NFL average when needing 2 or less yards on third or fourth down is 66.7% conversion rate. That’s exactly 2/3 of the time. The Falcons are 31st in those situations, and are only converting at 46.7 percent (7/15 on the season on runs in those situations). The only team worse than that is the Lions, and we know what struggles they have had with their line along with a lack of power running backs. No surprise they’ve struggles; it’s shocking how much the Falcons have struggled.
There are three solutions available here, and Yasinskas lists them. One would be to remove Michael Turner from being the short yardage back. I don’t think that’s necessarily possible. Jason Snelling may be able to do that, but not for 20+ carries a game. And for all the good things he does, Jacquizz Rodgers doesn’t have the size necessary to drive defenders back. We know his uses, and that’s certainly not his forte.
Option two would be to improve your blocking from the fullback and tight end positions. I hate to say it, but the Falcons have tried to address this, but due to injuries, they haven’t been able to get the people they wanted out on the field. They drafted Bradie Ewing to be a fullback– he was injured in the preseason. Their best blocking tight end, Tommy Gallarda, suffered a season ending injury. He has been out recently, so we’ve seen the best that we are likely to get from those positions. We just need better execution, even if it isn’t perfect.
The option I’m in favor of is abandoning the run altogether in those short-yardage situations. We obviously aren’t able to blow opponents defensive lines back off the ball and open up holes on the run game, so why continue to try to do that? Here’s a really interesting quote from Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter in regard to short yardage situations:
"They are challenging because you need one yard and everybody knows you need one yard. That’s what makes it challenging. It’s like you’re trying to make one yard and they’re trying to defend one yard. Maybe we ought to just pretend its third and 10 and we might be better off."
Just find ways to throw the ball. All you need is a checkdown, so a yard would be all that’s necessary. A simple checkdown is all that’s necessary. More things could go wrong, sure, but isn’t it worth it? Especially in the middle of the field, the Falcons have enough weapons for someone to get open. In addition to the great, fast, physical, and smart receiving threats of Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, you have guys like Harry Douglas and running back Jacquizz Rodgers who can get open underneath if the ‘Big Three’ can’t get open. Someone has to be open, and all you need is a yard, maybe two. It might be way more doable than trying to run with Turner between the tackles.
It’s a slightly unconventional idea, but it’s one worth thinking about. The Falcons should be able to convert in those short yardage situations, but unfortunately haven’t been able to do so. It’s sad really. But they must pull out all stops to enable themselves to convert. And throwing the ball might just be the way to do it.