Atlanta Falcons: Balance on offense crucial for playoff push


It was all over. Just 260 days before the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina had strolled to its fourth straight victory and beat Mike Smith’s team into submission at the Georgia Dome. An emphatic 34-3 loss highlighted everything wrong with the 2014 Falcons, and it was brutally clear change was needed.

“Right now, we’re nowhere near as good as we’re going to be” – Falcons head coach Dan Quinn after victory over Eagles.

Among those changes was the hiring of Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Shanahan’s future is as an NFL head coach, but for now the Falcons benefit from his zone blocking scheme. But most importantly, the word we’ve heard so often from Shanahan is balance. Establishing balance between passing and running the football is critical for the offense to reach its full potential.

In the Week 17 loss to Carolina, Atlanta passed 47 times and ran just 16 times. You could make the point that they were constantly behind the game and needed to catchup, and you would be correct, but this was a consistent problem. A week prior in the 30-14 victory on the road to New Orleans, the split between pass and run was 40 to 22. Sure, the Falcons had Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but the offense was one dimensional.

In Shanahan’s first game in Atlanta, nine months removed from the Falcons’ last regular season game, they passed the football 34 times and ran 35 times. The result? Balance on offense and an impressive 26-24 victory over one of the best teams in the NFC.

"“For the first time out, I’m pleased with where we’re at in terms of balance,” Quinn said."

Of 69 offensive plays, the Falcons actually ran the football once more than they threw it. This highlights just how far the team has come under the new coaching staff, and also now with the personnel to commit to such a change.

One of the key roster additions is rookie running back Tevin Coleman, selected in the third round out of Indiana in May’s draft. Coleman flashed his speed and big-play potential against Philadelphia, working hard for 80 yards from his 20 carries. If a couple of penalties hadn’t been called elsewhere, this number could have increased. The rookie saw an 18-yard gain wiped out for a holding call.

Striking balance on offense benefits everyone. Defenses don’t know what’s coming and have to give equal respect to the run and pass games. If they invite the run, pound the rock and wear them down. If they stack the box, burn ’em deep.

"“I think the balance is something we’re looking for, and we’ve got to stay committed,” Quinn said. “We strive to have the run game we want, the play-action and all that comes with it.”"

And commitment is what we can expect to see. Coleman has only given us a glimpse of his potential, but his role will continue to grow. Devonta Freeman ran hard all game but wasn’t able to get the results, but his talent and versatility makes him a key component in Shanahan’s offense moving forward. Between the two of them, they can give Atlanta the legitimate threat in the run game it so desperately needed. 

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Quinn’s mission since taking over is to build a championship team. To consistently compete in the postseason, you need a few things going for you.

A top quarterback? Check. Matt Ryan is “The Man”.

A playmaker at wide receiver? Check. They already had this with Julio Jones, but Quinn further strengthened the receiver corps this offseason.

What was lacking was good play on defense and a run game. It’s too early to make any real judgements, but the Falcons’ defense looks significantly better. There is still a lot of work to do—not just this season but in the years to come—but the progress already made is outstanding.

As for the run game, Quinn has put trust in youth and found good fits for Shanahan’s offense. Freeman played in a similar zone-blocking scheme at college, and Coleman is an ideal complement to succeed in an offense former-Falcon Antone Smith referred to as a “running back’s heaven”.

For the Falcons to return to the playoffs and become consistent members of the January football club, they must continue to find the balance between the run and the pass. If this is achieved, the sky is the limit.

Next: NFC South Power Rankings: Week 2 standings

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