When a team is a 6-0, every negative critique should begin and end with, “… but they’re 6-0.” Because ultimately, the record determines the standings, the playoff field and whether some climate-controlled, pass-dominating offensive Dome team is going to be forced to head for the snowdrifts of Green Bay or Chicago in January in the postseason.
So we start again by reaffirming that the Falcons are 6-0. All hail.
But anybody witnessing the last three victories, sloppy exercises over mediocre opponents Carolina, Washington and Oakland, can attest to the team’s issues going into the bye week. Need confirmation? Ask their starting running back, who has had a close-up look at probably the Falcons’ biggest failing right now: their lack of a running game.
When Turner, a relative spectator in the mistake-plagued 23-20 win over the Raiders’ Sunday, was asked about the Falcons going into the bye week “the right way,” he didn’t respond with sunshine and lollipops.
“Yeah, a win is a win,” he said. “But we’re looking at something beyond just winning right now. We’re trying to be special and special teams don’t play like that.”
Beyond Matt Ryan’s three interceptions, beyond the defense allowing the NFL’s worst rushing team to run for 149 yards, beyond an offense that was matched in touchdown production by one late-game Asante Samuel pick-six but again was rescued by the foot of Matt Bryant, the Falcons’ problems start with their inability to jam the ball down the other team’s throats.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has all of these wonderful toys to play with. It’s clear Atlanta is now a pass-first team. That’s fine. The NFL has become a pass-first league. But at some point the Falcons will need to be able to run the ball, whether it’s late in the season, and/or on the road, and/or in the playoffs
Trailing 13-10 in the third quarter, they had a first-and-goal at the Raiders’ 2-yard-line following a turnover but had to settle for a field goal. The plays: incomplete pass, Turner for 1 yard, Snelling for a 1-yard loss (from the one-foot line).
Tied at 13-all in the fourth, they had a third-and-a-foot from their 45 but opted for a passing play. Ryan misconnected with Tony Gonzalez. They punted.
Turner seems frustrated. He was held to 11 carries for 33 yards Sunday. Ryan covered half that with a 15-yard scramble. The team’s rushing total: 45 yards.
The Falcons have managed to tip-toe around this issue all season. It hasn’t gotten in the way of them winning yet, but that seems inevitable.
Ask the running back.
“I’m not sure why it’s going like this,” Turner said. “It’s great to be 6-0 and everything. But we can’t just assume we’re always going to be able to get an interception or a last-minute field goal every time. At some point we’re going to have to run the ball. We’ve got to be able to knock it in [the endzone].”
Turner’s runs by quarters: two for 12 yards, three for 12, three for minus-one, three for 10.
Some of this lack of production is on him. He looks slow at times.
Some of it is on the offensive line. It generally has been far better at pass protection this season than opening holes or getting any push. (It wasn’t good at either Sunday.)
Has Turner lost confidence?
“No. I’m still here. I’ve never lost confidence.”
Have the Falcons lost confidence in Turner or their ability to run the ball at all?
“You would have to ask them that. That’s not something they would tell me. It’s their team, their scheme, their offense. I’m just here to try to help them win.”
Coach Mike Smith conceded the running game isn’t where he would like it to be. He referenced the first-and-goal drive, saying: “I know the next question is going to be when you’ve got the ball on the 1½-yard line, do you feel like you have to get it in there? Yes. The goal of our football team is real simple. It’s to score points and to score points any way that we can.”
They managed just enough again. They have won their last three games by two, seven and three points on drives with :05 (field goal), 2:46 (touchdown) and :01 (field goal) left. That makes them 6-0. But they’re playing a dangerous game.
By Jeff Schultz-