Atlanta Falcons: Ghosts of past short-yardage failures still haunt

By Michael Cunningham

FLOWERY BRANCH–Three times the Falcons went for it on third-and-short, three times they failed, and the repercussions rang in their ears throughout last offseason.

Those were the lasting images from their blowout playoffs defeat at the Giants in January. There were echoes when the Falcons flopped on short-yardage runs during their 28-27 loss at New Orleans on Sunday.

The offensive line took much of the heat for the Giants game and center Todd McClure doesn’t want that narrative to gain steam again.

What is wrong with the Falcons' short yardage rushing attack?

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“That’s two totally different ballgames,” McClure said. “That’s what [ticks] me off more than anything is you guys are going to write about how bad we are up front and that we can’t get in the end zone. But there’s more to it than just blocking up front, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

“I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things knowing there’s more to it that five guys up front but we take the brunt of the blame.”

McClure didn’t elaborate on which factors led to the short-yardage struggles, but obviously line play is just one aspect of the rushing offense.

It starts with the play called in the huddle, including blocking schemes, and adjustments to either or both can be made at the line of scrimmage. The running backs have to make the right reads as the play unfolds.

Whatever the reason for the issues, the Falcons have to be better when they need a yard or two. They failed to convert runs on four short-yardage situations against the Saints, none more costly than Michael Turner’s one-yard loss on third-and-goal in the final two minutes.

“It’s a bad thing,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “If you had a magic wand and could wave it, then it would be easy to fix everything if you had that magic wand. [Short runs], that’s one part of the game. We came up short in that part and eventually that added up to us coming up short on the scoreboard.”

In many ways, Atlanta’s issues converting in short-yardage situations make little sense in the context of its overall offensive performance on third down.

The Falcons rank third in the league with a 47.5 percent conversion rate on third downs. They are second in the league on third down and from between four and six yards to go but 50 percent on third-and-one.

“Those are the ones that are very visible,” Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill said. ”A third-and-four, you don’t make it and you run off the field and no one says anything. A third and one, it’s ‘Why didn’t you make it?’ When you have a play that seems easy and obvious sometimes those are the most difficult.”

Hill said that’s especially true near the goal line, where the defense has less field to cover and can be more aggressive. A small mistake in execution by one offensive player can ruin the play.

Also, the offense has fewer play-call options against a defense that’s expecting a run.

“They are challenging because you need one yard and everybody knows you need one yard,” Koetter said. “It’s like you’re trying to make one yard and they’re trying to defend one yard. Maybe we ought to just pretend it’s third-and-10 and we might be better off.”

Turner’s final run illustrated the problems Atlanta had when it tried to overpower the Saints.

The Falcons lined up with seven players tight on the line of scrimmage, fullback Ryan Cox in the backfield and tight end Michael Palmer in motion behind the linemen. That’s nine blockers total, and yet the Saints still were able to swarm Turner in the backfield for a one-yard loss.

Saints defenders were in the backfield quickly on Atlanta’s two other failed runs near the goal line.

“We had a lot of penetration in a couple situations,” Hill said. “It’s a situation where the execution has to be at its highest level along with technique . . . and you’ve got to give credit to the defense sometimes.”

Turner was the ball carrier on all four failed short-yardage runs. He finished with 15 yards on 13 carried with a long of nine yards while Jacquizz Rodgers had 29 yards on three carries with a long of 18 yards.

Turner has made a career out of being a power runner but the Falcons have focused more on passing the ball this season. Against New Orleans they passed for touchdowns twice after Turner was stopped short on runs and tried to pass again following Turner’s final one-yard loss.

Koetter said Turner “had no chance” on most of his runs because there were defenders running free at the point of attack. He said the Falcons have to run the ball more efficiency regardless of which running back is carrying the ball.

That gets back to McClure’s point: running the ball in short-yardage situations is a team effort.

“It is in every aspect of it,” McClure said. “But we get the ball on the one, we are expected to get it in. I just get frustrated sometimes [with the criticism] the past couple years. There’s more to it than just lining up and blocking the guys wherever they line up.”


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51 comments Add your comment


November 15th, 2012
9:47 am

Fal can’ts fear 4th and short versus Saint s!

Falcon James

November 15th, 2012
9:57 am

This is something that needs to improve before we go into the playoffs. We still have a lot of time to work on it. Turner is taking a lot of heat and so is the OL. They all know how pitiful the Saint and am sure that will continue to get better.

[...] Atlanta Falcons This entry was posted in Atlanta Falcons and tagged Atlanta, failures, Falcons, Ghosts, haunt, past, shortyardage, still. Bookmark the permalink. ← Peyton Manning tops 2013 Pro Bowl voting; Tom Brady No. 2 [...]

Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & Tired

November 15th, 2012
10:05 am

McClure can say whatever but the O-line can’t move anyone off the line. They’re too small going up against the other team’s D-line. It will continue to be an issue until they can get new personnel on the field.

D man

November 15th, 2012
10:15 am

Todd McClure – so your saying the line is doing its job? Really? Three defenders are constantly in the backfield and all gaps are filled before Turner is handed the ball. You boys up front have some work to do on run blocking. Your doing a great job with pass blocking tough. Stop talking to the media and work harder in practice. We have a great thing going here and we need you to be a leader by rallying the guys. Let’s go FALCONS…

North FLA Falcon

November 15th, 2012
10:17 am

If everyone knows you need a yard then mix it up. Run a bootleg. Run a Wildcat. Do a sweep or a screen pass. Don’t just have a single back set and run it up the middle. It usually fails.


November 15th, 2012
10:18 am

DLed. I’m confused. It’s 0918. You posted at 0940. I’d like to see the future, too. Give us the key to the future!


November 15th, 2012
10:19 am

I give all due respect and credit for the incredible amount of work and effort the Offensive Line has put in this offseason. They have come a really long way from where they were.

The fact remains, that they still aren’t quite physical enough. It’s definately not all thier fault, most people have focused on Turner this season at least.

No NFL team is perfect, but we knew going into this season without much change at all to the elements of the running game other than an offensive coordinator that they were going to struggle in short yardage.

They were awful in short yardage last year right? A coordinator change and a coaching change on the line isn’t going to magically make them more physical. A year more of abuse on Turner isn’t making him quicker. Quizz is not 4 inches taller and 20lbs more physical.

This is something we didn’t have enough picks to fix this year. Same with the linebackers.

Missing on some guys has cost us a short yardage game. It is what it is.

We just aren’t a great physically stout rushing team. There are other ways to get it accomplished.


November 15th, 2012
10:21 am

DLed, why don’t you ask smith why he don’t let Snelling carrie the ball some, are you afraid to ask that question ? Also i told you at the beginning of the year that turner was a bum.

Elvis is Alive

November 15th, 2012
10:25 am

The voting on whether Turner is slowing down and the offensive line has been decided by the fans. Mike Turner is the problem.Turner does not seem to be ready to run. He is in position, but his first step is indecisive. I do not expect him to gallup, but I do expect him to explode from his set position.
Driving forward and lifting up your feet makes it hard to tackle (RB protocol 101). He has lost the fire.
Maybe we should have him begin running parallel to the line so he gets up a head of steam before trying to punch it in. And how about bootlegs and dive plays with the other backs.
We all love Mike Turner. He has done so much for the Falcons, but sometimes you have to hang’em up !!
Angry Birds 38- Cardinals 24…Rise up


November 15th, 2012
10:37 am

what did I say to get my posts blocked?

1998 Was Our Year

November 15th, 2012
10:54 am

I think we need to at least give Snelling or A. Smith on short yard situations sometimes to throw the Defense off, because it is known throughout the league, that if we load up the box, the”Burner” is not going to get the yard or two to move the Falcons forward.


November 15th, 2012
11:38 am

If it isn’t solved by this time what makes anyone think it will be solved by playoff time? There are other ways to get it done. It is all on Ryan’s shoulders.

Old time fan

November 15th, 2012
11:47 am

Again, Julio Jones dive over the top.


November 15th, 2012
11:48 am

lets go get reggie bush, he will be a FA next year….


November 15th, 2012
11:49 am

how many screens did we run sunday?

also, insofar as short yardage situations go, espeially close in, when is the last time that we ran a quarterback rollout?

abby normal

November 15th, 2012
11:51 am

I’ll say it again……we miss Harvey Dahl. The OL seems to play soft without him.


November 15th, 2012
11:58 am

I think the reason why there’s so much criticism in terms of the Falcons short yard offense is, it happens over and over again. At some point and starting with the Cardinals Sunday, the Falcons need to prove that they can effectively run the football. I see explosive plays on the offense- but very seldom in the department of running.


November 15th, 2012
12:22 pm

Enter your comments here


November 15th, 2012
12:27 pm

Why is there no discussion about bringing Ovie Mughelli back? Isn’t he sitting at home waiting on a call? Why was Cox signed instead?

Singing Toilet Water

November 15th, 2012
12:39 pm

Enter your comments here


November 15th, 2012
12:40 pm

I’m with “Atlantacham”, why has the Ovie Mughelli topic been so quiet. We need some info on Ovie’s status and if he was given a call or not.

Falcons 73

November 15th, 2012
12:44 pm

We can beat this one into the ground forever, but at the end of the day it’s up to the players to perform and up to the coaches to put them (the players) in the best position to succeed.

With that being said, I think WAY too much stock is put into the stature of the running back, as opposed to the WAY a running back runs/hits the hole. I can name countless examples of guys that are “small” but run with impact and impose their will on a defense (Jones-Drew, Martin from T.B, Ray Rice, DeAngelo Williams, and so on). This relates to the Falcons in that you have Michael Turner, whom most would agree is your “prototypical” short yardage back, but very rarely hits the hole with authority (and often times is pushed back for negative yards).

If the Falcons are to progress in the playoffs this year, they will have to go ahead make the change at running back now and transition the carries to Rodgers/Snelling. I still think they can utilize Turner to wear down a tired defense with a lead, but to continue the same pattern without change is insanity.

Falcons RiseUp

November 15th, 2012
1:15 pm

We need to start Antone Smith get some fresh feet in the backfield switch it up a little because right now Atlanta offense is too predictable we need to rotate our RB’s we have four great backs but Turner gets majority of our snaps use Rodger speed for bootlegs & play action use Snelling for short yardage use Turner for power runs & Smith to get us up the field


November 15th, 2012
1:22 pm

Falcons OL ranks 32nd in the NFL in power running, according to

Turner has clearly lost a step, but he is still a strong, strong runner who always falls forward. If he can’t get a yard, because there is no hole, no one else can either.

If it seems simple, sometimes it is. The middle of the line isn’t pushing the DL back enough in obvious running situations. Might as well try running sweeps, tosses and end-arounds.


November 15th, 2012
1:38 pm

There are three areas we got to fix if we want to go deep into the playoffs, our running game, our defense against the run and putting pressure on the oposing Quarterback. There are several playoff teams that will give us problems in these areas, and I dont think anybody want a piece of Seattle in the playoffs.


November 15th, 2012
1:39 pm

So on 12 of his carries, he gained a total of 6 yards? Who keeps calling his number?


November 15th, 2012
2:19 pm

Everybody’s always coming up with their version of what if, so here’s one for you. What if our QB was Aaron Rodgers or Drew Breeze when we had first and goal against NO ? Ryan is a good QB and I’m glad he’s here, but he’s still not elite like about 98% of the Falcon fanbase thinks. It’s always Smittys fault or this or that but never ever Matt Ryan. You better NOT say anything about our darlng MR2…………….BULL !

Dirty Bird

November 15th, 2012
2:22 pm

I understand the point that Smith will continue to pound away with Turner, because this coaching staff is determined to be balanced. That mentality will cost this team games, and it already has cost them one. It’s irony, but it’s true. Previous seasons, they were a great running team,and we wanted more “explosiveness”, and now, when they are getting explosive, they want to run more.

I’m sorry, but if you want to be explosive, you also need to be so in the running game.
The Saints have a great passing game, and look at their Hbs. None are fat, with tree trunk legs.

Frankly, we need a runner like Quizz, only a bit bigger.

REAMing aints

November 15th, 2012
2:27 pm

DLed, I believe the score was 31-27.

REAMing aints

November 15th, 2012
2:32 pm

“I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things knowing there’s more to it that five guys up front but we take the brunt of the blame.”
So….. Todd – how about you guys getting together with WHOEVER it is that is stopping this decent O-Line and running back from making a yard now and again? That pretty much resolves the issue, right? I mean, it’s not rocket surgery, right? Blow people off the line! If someone doesn’t have the right technique, or understanding, then FIX IT! TALK to each other. TALK it out. FIX the issue! You want it, coaches want it, players want it, so do it!

failclowns REAMED

November 15th, 2012
3:01 pm

that butt whoopin’ is still stinging pretty hard i see ! WHODAT? not the fail-cans !!!!


November 15th, 2012
3:14 pm

On a 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1

With all due respect to Todd McClure, we should be able to line up in double TE’s in an I formation and tell the other team (Matt could actually announce it to the opposing defense on the stadium loudspeakers) “we are going to run between the tackles for the 1st Down” and MAKE IT – PERIOD!!!!

1998 Was Our Year

November 15th, 2012
3:28 pm

Look at the way Seattle’s Marshaun Lynch and San Francisco’s Frank Gore ran against the Aints in the past two years in the playoffs, and look at the way Atlanta’s Micheal Turner ran against the Aints in the past two years, you will notice a huge difference.

1998 Was Our Year

November 15th, 2012
3:30 pm

excuse my spelling Marshawn.

Ken Strickland

November 15th, 2012
4:17 pm

DLEDBETTER-Why are all of my post getting blocked?

[...] Atlanta Falcons: Ghosts of past short-yardage failures still haunt By Michael Cunningham. FLOWERY BRANCH–Three times the Falcons went for it on 3rd-and-short, 3 times they failed, & the repercussions rang in their ears throughout last offseason. Those were the lasting images from their blowout playoffs defeat … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


November 15th, 2012
5:24 pm

Q: How many Atlanta Falcons does it take to win a Super Bowl?
A: Nobody knows and we may never find out!


November 15th, 2012
5:27 pm

Q. How are the Falcons like my neighbors?
A. They can’t pick up a single yard!


November 15th, 2012
5:34 pm

We’re a new team on offense i don’t think turner fits us anymore as a every down back rodgers should be starter and turner the closer when we put rodgers in the game teams are looking for us to throw him the ball out of the back field start him and teams can’tkey on him like that that means we can pass pass pass hit them with a draw maybe even brake a big one and slip a screen or two in there


November 15th, 2012
5:35 pm

Q. What is the aints record?

A. 4-5

Ken Strickland

November 15th, 2012
6:06 pm

DLEDBETTER-Why are all of my posts being blocked?


November 15th, 2012
6:09 pm

Somebody please put Omama out of of our misery. He is killing our country. We will get another holiday in January if he is gone.


November 15th, 2012
6:12 pm

Getting stuffed by a good team’s defense on short yardage has many dimensions, granted, but in this case it came down essentially to talent, and there’s practically nothing that can be done about it. We can’t coach our way out of it. The Saints matched up better on the line (both lines), and they showed it over and over and over. They’re tougher and more talented. To get better we have to get better players.


November 15th, 2012
6:22 pm

3rd or 4th and one is about attitude as well. MT has been the workhorse for a while, and his patience pays off a good bit in the middle of the field, but sometimes the RB has to make a hole. I have confidence that Dirk will get this fixed. He’s much more creative than Mularkey. GO BIRDS!!!

Athens Tider

November 15th, 2012
8:39 pm

Yorker, Somebody needs to put you out of your misery. And I guarantee you there won’t be a holiday.

Mr. SaintsFan Jr.

November 15th, 2012
9:17 pm

I’m guessing Saints fans can no longer post here……haven’t read a comment I’ve posted yet on here. Shame on you AJC.


November 15th, 2012
11:07 pm

No SB trophy…no playoff win in years…Saints have owned you last 11/13 games….fact…

wesley hooks

November 15th, 2012
11:45 pm

don’t get pissed todd ole boy, it’s true, IT’S YOUR JOB (OLINE) to blow the defensive line off the line of scrimmage, nobody’s fault but the o-line it’s what you get paid to do. If yu can’t stand the criticism do a better job or find another line of work. Last time i checked that was the job of the offensive line to create running lanes or holes for the RB to run through, am I wrong?? Has something changed?? Quit your whining and do the job you are supposed to do and you won’t get criticized all the time…

Starship 1

November 16th, 2012
12:46 am

I second that emotion. O-line-do your job; it ain’t that hard-to analyze on film why Turner can’t get one yard or less. I mean, why can’t Matt just fall forward for 1 yard? He can’t cause he knows his line doesn’t have a push. Todd-you are already letting the critizism get inside your head. That’s when you know that truth hurts.