FLOWERY BRANCH – The talk of the offseason, offensively speaking, revolved around the Atlanta Falcons’ move to a more balanced attack. Whether it was new head coach Dan Quinn, or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the directive was for the Falcons to run the ball just a frequently as they threw it.
At the time that was huge news. The Falcons threw the football close to 63 percent of the time in 2014 (only two teams – Oakland and Chicago – tossed it around more frequently) and led the league with a 67 percent pass ratio in 2013. With Matt Ryan throwing the ball to Julio Jones and Roddy White, and even Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas when they were still with the team, this offense was built for an aerial assault.
Quinn and Shanahan seemed to be telling the truth, as Monday’s numbers show a balance run-pass split was no lip service.
The Falcons threw the ball 35 times and ran it 34. That’s about as even as even gets.
“I think the balance is something that we’re looking for, and we’ve got to stay committed in that way to strive to have the run game, play actions, and keepers that we want,” said Quinn on Tuesday. “For our first time out, I’m pleased with where we are at in terms of the balance.
“From here, we just have to see how much better we can get at each part of our game. Right now, we’re nowhere as good as we’re going to be. I like what that feels like, knowing that there’s a lot of work we need to do to get better. By no means on either side of the ball or on special teams are we playing our best football right now. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I do like that we got a nice base to start from and away we go.”
Most of that work will absolutely have to come in the run game.
Atlanta’s offensive line struggled to open rushing lanes in the first half. While the unit – and the run game – improved in the second half, 105 rushing yards on 35 carries (3 yards per carry) lands well below the typical NFL standard of four yards per rushing attempt.
Rookie Tevin Coleman averaged four yards per carry as he tallied 80 yards on the ground. Devonta Freeman struggled at 18 yards on 10 carries, with half of that yardage coming on one run. Not only will these two ball carriers have to improve, but so will the offensive line.
Atlanta added offensive tackle Jake Long on Tuesday. He’ll come in to back up both tackle positions. He brings a first overall draft pedigree and a background for more-than-solid run blocking. But it could be some time before he’s ready to play. Quinn said Long likely won’t play Sunday against the New York Giants, and the Falcons will get him up to speed as quickly as possible.
Until then, Ryan Schraeder and Jake Matthews will man the tackle positions and Mike Person at center will be flanked by guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester. Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme is predicated on communication and a certain comfort with playing together to succeed. Levitre has been with the team for fewer than two weeks and Person and Chester were both offseason additions.
For the running game to improve – and for the Falcons to continue this balanced attack – there needs to be vast improvement all around.
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