Why Atlanta Falcons will reach the playoffs: Enhanced run game


The Atlanta Falcons will make the playoffs.

I will give that line its own paragraph, so you can easily find it if I’m wrong and remind me. I’ve been breaking down each reason why I feel the Falcons will reach the postseason.

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So far, I’ve made a case for an improved defense, and have also looked at the superstar quality of Julio Jones.

For an offense to find success, they need balance. It’s possible to have a strong passing game without much help on the ground, and likewise it’s possible to have a strong run game without much in the air, but the best teams can do both.

Last season, the Falcons had no problem moving the football in the air. Led by Matt Ryan, they finished fifth in passing yards with 4,553, more than Super Bowl winners New England and Green Bay.

The reason for this is largely due to the fact Atlanta has an elite quarterback in Ryan throwing the football to one of the NFL’s top wide receivers, Julio Jones.

On the ground, no such joy was found. The Falcons’ 1,498 rushing yards was good for just 24th in the NFL, and this is a problem.

Without a strong run game, opposing defenses will shift their focus to pressuring the quarterback and suffocating passing lanes. It can make even the best passing units one-dimensional.

Nov 16, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) and quarterback Matt Ryan (2) react in the third quarter. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 19-17 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s crucial to establish balance on offense; even the threat of a run gives defenders something extra to think about. With a strong run game, the Falcons’ offense could be almost impossible to stop.

When you look at the NFL’s top offenses, this theme is apparent. We’ll start with what I believe is the league’s best offense, the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, the Packers have the reigning MVP at quarterback and are stacked at wide receiver, but it’s Eddie Lacy that gives their offense a whole new dimension. Teams can no longer invite the run, because Lacy will gladly carve them open.

But here’s the issue. Now defenses move an extra defender into the box to stop the run, which opens up plenty of space for Aaron Rodgers to move the ball to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Seattle is another example; the Seahawks lean on their run game with ‘Beast Mode’. Led by Marshawn Lynch, they finished first in rushing offense. Holding them back is their passing game, but Russell Wilson is establishing himself as one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and his ability automatically gives defenses a lot to think about.

Jimmy Graham will be lining up for the back-to-back NFC champions this year, too. Oh boy.

Atlanta already boasts a top offense, but improvements to the ground game will take the unit to a whole new level and will dramatically improve their playoff chances.

This offseason, we’ve seen Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers depart, which promotes second-year Devonta Freeman into a key role. Third round draft choice Tevin Coleman was added too.

May 26, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) on the field during OTA at Falcons Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Is it enough to transform the Falcons’ ground game?


For me, Coleman will eventually be the starter at running back even if he doesn’t start immediately in Week 1. Coleman is a violent, powerful runner who has the potential to break free in open space and score big-yard touchdowns.

That’s not to say Freeman won’t play a key role. My expectation is for the two to form a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield, complementing each other’s styles.

New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will provide plenty of opportunities for the backs to get the football, and it’s up to them to deliver.

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The Falcons will still be a pass-happy team, which is expected when Ryan and Jones are on your team. With that said, don’t expect the ground game to be competing right at the top of the rankings, but it’ll be good enough to help the team in their playoff push.

Between them, Coleman and Freeman will be able to dictate the pace of games while freeing up passing opportunities for Ryan, particularly with play-action passes.

If either back can get rolling in 2015, it will require one extra defender to cover them. What this does is free up room for Jones, Roddy White or a third-string receiver like Justin Hardy to spring into space.

To make the playoffs, the Falcons need some improvements across the board. Their run game will be improved in 2015, and this is one of the reasons why I believe they are destined for the postseason.

Next: 3 Atlanta Falcons poised to break out