Atlanta Falcons: What can we expect from the running game in 2020?

Ito Smith will hope to be part of an improved Atlanta Falcons running game (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Ito Smith will hope to be part of an improved Atlanta Falcons running game (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /
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Falcons running game
The Falcons running game could look to recreate the success of 2016 (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Falcons rushing attack scheme in comparison to previous years.

It’s no secret that the decision-makers at the Falcons have spent the last few years desperately clinging to the remains of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Sarkisian was discouraged from straying too far from his predecessor’s scheme but was unable to produce much more than a cheap imitation.

His passing offense was effective outside of the red zone, but often at the expense of the running game, which suffered from predictability, inefficiency and far too many toss plays.

Koetter’s arrival looked to signal a fresh start. Brought in as the highest-paid offensive coordinator in the league, Dan Quinn and company gave Koetter the freedom to implement his own philosophies. One of the many issues with that decision was that the personnel in place didn’t fit the scheme that Koetter wanted to run.

Resources had been pumped into players to fit a zone-blocking scheme and Koetter’s preference was for man blocking. The team decided to bring in James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, two heavy guards, to confuse the matter and then did a complete 180 by drafting two athletic offensive linemen in the first round in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Hope you’re keeping up at home.

At the heart of Shanahan’s outside-zone running game were athletic offensive linemen and wide receivers who were willing to mix it up with cornerbacks. The sight of Devonta Freeman breaking through a hole and following Chris Chester and Ryan Schraeder to the second level was a regular occurrence and their effectiveness when running full speed at linebackers hasn’t been replicated since they departed.

The Falcons used both man and zone blocking in the running game last year, but the lighter offensive linemen noticeably struggled when running power, especially when coming up against the likes of Linval Joseph.

Devonta Freeman spent more time trying to evade players in his own backfield than he did moving forward.

The expectation for 2020 is that the Falcons move back towards the outside zone scheme, stretching opposing defenses out with athletic offensive linemen and creating multiple lanes for the running back to be able to cut into.