Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.
Lost in the Falcons’ impressive season-opening victory was a poor rushing attack that coaches and players say must be better if the team is to be truly successful.
It’s hard to find warts after the offense amassed 376 total yards, scored on its first eight possessions and dominated the Chiefs in a 40-24 win. However, it didn’t go unnoticed that the Falcons rushed for only 84 yards.
“We didn’t run the ball very well,” right tackle Tyson Clabo said. “We had a couple of good runs, but overall I don’t think that we did what we need to do to go where we want to go.”
Michael Turner had just 11 carries for 32 yards, an average of 2.9 yards per carry. He did not play after the Falcons scored 44 seconds into the fourth quarter to take a 20-point lead.
“Not after one game,” Turner said when asked if fans should be concerned with his production. “If it’s a couple weeks down the road and I’m still looking like that then trade me off your fantasy team.”
The second part of his statement was said in jest, but Turner is serious about the need for an effective rushing attack. The Falcons ran 55 offensive plays against the Chiefs, with 31 passes. Turner said there were several issues in the run game, including blocking schemes, sustaining and finishing blocks and backs making better runs and reads of blocks.
“We missed some blocks and we missed some cuts,” coach Mike Smith said. “It was a group effort and that’s something we want to address here in the next couple of days. We will address it.”
Turner has averaged 20 carries a game in his five seasons with the Falcons (1,200 carries in 60 regular-season games). While the Falcons are looking to decrease his workload, they had 12 more carries by Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and Matt Ryan and threw two screen passes.
Clabo said he believes the mentality of the Falcons is still to be a run-first team. However, they are going to take what a defense gives. The Chiefs’ two-gap defense, run out of the 3-4 scheme, is designed to stop the run. It’s a defense that Clabo said has given the Falcons fits for years. He said in the past the team might “keep hitting our head against the wall” grinding a defense down until it broke a long run.
“I think we are happy with the results of the game,” Clabo said. “Obviously we’d like to run the ball better. I think probably there are going to be games where the opposite happens, where we have to lean on the run. That’s what good offenses can do. I think we can potentially be a very good offense.”
Turner believes the success in the passing game will eventually equate to success in the running game. He said in the past opponents have tried to make the Falcons one-dimensional. They would concentrate on stopping the run because they believed the Falcons couldn’t win by predominately throwing the ball. Now, defenses have to concentrate on Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Just ask the Chiefs.
A good run game cannot be underestimated in this week’s Monday night matchup with Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Keeping Manning off the field can only be an advantage. Manning was 19 of 26 for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 31-19 season-opening win over the Steelers.
The Broncos run a 4-3 defense so at least the Falcons’ rushing attack won’t have to deal with the troublesome two-gap scheme.
“It’s important to eat up the clock, but we’ve got the offense that can score, so go ahead and get seven [points],” center Todd McClure said. “The key to playing against a guy like [Manning] is that you always want to be up two scores. You don’t ever want to leave the ball in his hands at the end of the game. You’ve got to try to get up two scores and stay that way.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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