The Falcons have done some good things in the run game. Those efforts, however, have been surrounded by sputters, false starts and stops.
Head coach Arthur Smith's scheme has a proven track record of success on the ground, providing real optimism it can be a weapon once it finds a rhythm.
We aren't there yet.
Better execution is required to increase production. That opens the door for so much, increasing play action effectiveness, time of possession and the ability to retain late leads.
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We've seen solid flashes from Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson and even Wayne Gallman, but the Falcons need more from the entire operation. They currently rank 31st in rushing efficiency, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.
"I can sit here and say we're close and make excuses but we'll get this thing going," Smith said this week. "I'm confident in that."
Sunday’s game against the Jets would be good time to make a quantum leap. The passing game will be impacted by playing without Russell Gage (ankle) and Calvin Ridley (personal), so solid work on the ground could take some pressure off the air attack and force the Jets defense to play honest up front.
It would also slow down the Jets well-coordinated pass rush, which can harass a quarterback and an offensive line. The Jets have at times been vulnerable to the run, floating around the middle of the pack in run defense. To this point, they have allowed 127 rushing yards per game. The Falcons haven't cracked that threshold this season. They had 124 in the season opener against Philadelphia but haven't reached triple digits since.
This isn't all on guys carrying the football, a point that Mike Davis proves. He’s averaging 3.1 yards per carry – that’s not a great clip – and 1.7 yards after contact, per pro-football-reference.com. That means he is getting hit just 1.4 yards into his attempts, often before he crosses the line of scrimmage. That suggest blocking issues that must improve for this run game to get going.
"I think Mike's (Davis) done a really good job," Smith said. "It takes all 11. I think, when you just look at yards per carry, that's false. [It] takes 11. The way we do things here, it takes everybody getting into the right looks. Everybody's got to do their job. When you look at the numbers that just on the surface, it's a low hanging fruit, but we're four weeks into this. We've got a long way to go, we need to get this run game going but it takes everybody."
Patterson has been an effective offensive weapon, though he has done most damage in the passing game. Gallman showed some explosiveness against Washington, his only appearance as a Falcon to date, but must continue progressing to get more opportunities.
The Falcons have to block better and fit better within the scheme.
Quarterback Matt Ryan's also a vital cog in the effort, getting the Falcons into the right runs against the defense he's looking at on a particular play.
Ryan also identified a key for improvement on the ground.
"We've got to do a good job of getting our backs into the second level," he said. "I've always thought that you kind of pound away and you get your three- and four-yard runs and then, all of a sudden, if you continue to get to that second level, the big ones hit.
"All 11 of us have to do our part. We've got to do a great job on the backside of runs on the outside blocking DBs and making sure we're getting hats on hats and just giving the back one or two guys to run off of. There are opportunities for it. I think we can really do it, and we're going to continue to work towards it, but if we can continue to get our backs to the second level and finish on the outsides and on the backsides of plays I think that's going to help us out."
Patterson and Davis can be impactful working in space. Patterson uses speed in those situations. Davis can be physical with defensive backs once he's through the line.
Ryan's mantra during this inconsistent is that, if they've done it well once, they can do it again. That certainly applies to the rushing attack, which has made some good plays to this point.
The passing game could use an assist against the Jets, down two vital pieces heading into a gotta-have-it game. Ryan believes the run game is close, ready for a big day in the near future.
"I think at times, early in the season we've run the ball very effectively," Ryan said. "I think it's similar to our offense in general. I think we just have to be more consistent for four quarters."
Take a look at some of the best Falcons fits in this gallery, presented by Delta. The team heads to London to face the New York Jets in Week 5.