The Atlanta Falcons and the Permutation of a Run-First Offense…


Aug 9, 2012; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) talks to his offensive line during the first quarter in a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure that Atlanta fans and NFL enthusists alike have realized that the days of Micheal ‘The Burner” Turner putting up 1400-yard seasons are long gone. He’s on the other side of 30, and as soon as Dimitroff decided to let Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli walk, everyone knew Turner’s numbers would take a dip. Add to that the fact that Atlanta was progressing towards a pass-heavy scheme, and people, like myself, questioned what purpose Turner would serve in the offense if any at all…The O-line has struggled opening run-lanes, and when there is a slight crease visable, Turner doesn’t have the acceleration to get to the gap before it closes. Let’s not forget he has hands of stone, eliminating him as a option on passing downs. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk was quoted on NFL Network saying Turner “is the type of back that needs 20-30 carries to get going”.

Giving a running back, especially one who’s past his prime, that many carries won’t cut it in today’s NFL…

It could lead to too many three-and-outs, which takes the offense out of rhythm. Look at the Texans, a team who’s offense is at times too dependent on the running the football. During the last stretch of the regular season, Houston lost the three of their last four games. In each of those losses, Foster failed to amass over 100 yards rushing. While their defense carried them earlier in the season, they were exploited the last few weeks… In order to compete, they had to put up points and play at a faster tempo than they’re used to.

When a team needs the RB to perform to get the passing game going, it could be a problem if you don’t have an elite defense.

The perinnial-best teams (the ones without a top-notch defense) of the NFL have QB’s that can hurt defenses without a running back getting in a rhythm. Creative offensive coordinators have taken advantage of the rule changes that protect the quarterbacks and the receivers. The result is aerial assaults that can put up a lot of touchdowns quickly. Most inexperienced QB’s struggle to sustain drives when playing from behind, the elite signal-callers of the NFL don’t. Before Dirk Koetter’s arrival, Matt Ryan struggled when the run game didn’t show up, which frustrated fans and Falcons critics. It was one of the reasons people held off on putting Ryan in the elite category. In today’s NFL, the great QB’s are the ones that can handle the responsibility of carrying an entire offense, even without a potent run game. It’s only six or seven truly elite quarterbacks that can handle that kind of pressure week after week.

I think Matt Ryan has made his case for being a first-class signal caller in the league this year.

Even in my earliest assesment of Matt Ryan, I knew he had all the tools to be a top ten or even five QB. He works and studies hard, is very intellegent, well spoken, and is a leader of men. The only thing keeping him out of elite company was Mike Smith’s love of playing conservitive and running the football…What some would refer to as ‘Smitty Ball’. In addition to the conservitve playcalling, Mike Mularkey’s limited playbook didn’t give Matt Ryan many opportunities to showcase his greatest strength, his intelligence. The Dink-Dunk-Run strategy was very predictable, and was only good for 4.0 and 3.9 yards per play in our last two elimination games…Extremely pitiful when compared to Green Bay’s 6.4 and the Giants’ 6.9 in those same games.

As effective as the offense was during the regular season, the plays lacked playoff-caliber creativity.

The addition of Dirk Koetter, along with his diverse playbook and complex screen plays, have done wonders for Matt Ryan. Seeing Atlanta air the ball out has made them a lot more fun to watch, even though the transition got a little bumpy a few games. We struggled against Carolina, Oakland, Arizona at home. But, the important thing to take way from those games is that we won each of them playing very unbalanced football…Something Atlanta never did previous years. When we wern’t blowing out opponents, we were still scoring enough points to keep games close. Matt Ryan would then pull some of his late-game heroics to seal(steal) a victory. Confidence is an important trait to have as a leader, and if Matt didn’t have it before, he certainly has it now. He believes he can lead his team to a victory no matter situation.

Even with Matt Ryan’s emergence, the importance of balance hasn’t left Mike Smith’s philosophy. The days of Turner averaging 100 ypc may be gone, but we still have the threat of a run game with Jason Snelling and role-player Jacquizz Rodgers. With a QB like Matt Ryan though, and aerial weapons like Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and even Harry Douglas, the Falcons have shown that they’re a better team using the pass to set up the run than doing it the other way around.