NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger has become famous on social media for his expertly detailed breakdowns of gridiron action, and, occasionally, the proper way to craft a fine artisan sandwich.
Baldinger recently joined “NFL Now” and was asked about the possibility of two-time All-Pro running back Todd Gurley returning to his dominant ways in his first season with the Falcons. Gurley gained nearly 4,000 combined offensive yards and scored 40 touchdowns during the 2017-2018 seasons, but he had a dip in production in 2019, gaining 1,064 total yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.
While those numbers are far from paltry, they seem underwhelming when compared to the otherworldly totals from the two seasons prior. The Falcons have indicated they'd like to make a change to their offensive approach in 2020, and it's a change that Baldinger believes will help Gurley.
"They want to get back to the zone-stretch play, the foundational play that made the Falcons the No. 1 offense in 2016," Baldinger said. "This is what Todd has been doing with Sean McVay … that's how he ran for 5 yards a carry and 17 touchdowns in 2018."
Atlanta has always utilized some form of a wide-zone run scheme under head coach Dan Quinn, but that usage was most prominent during the Falcons' magnificent 2016 season. Since that time, the Falcons' efficiency with those plays has decreased in successive seasons. In 2019, it appeared Atlanta favored more inside zone runs under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Quinn has stated this offseason that he would like to see the Falcons begin to utilize those stretch plays more, and it's an approach that would likely benefit the play-action attack for Atlanta as well. Koetter is seeking an improvement in rushing efficiency rather than a bump in the overall number of runs called, although the former goal would likely cause the latter.
An approach centered around efficiency rather than quantity might also benefit Gurley, who has dealt with questions about the health of his knee dating back to an ACL injury he sustained in his final game at Georgia. The Falcons will likely utilize a committee approach, as they have in recent seasons, but Gurley will be the lead man out of the backfield.
Atlanta is hoping that Gurley can tap into his magic for at least one more season, and it appears Baldinger is at least somewhat confident the ingredients are in place for that to happen.
"I think the Falcons, with Chris Lindstrom coming back in his second season, Kaleb McGary, the right tackle, with [Alex] Mack, Jake Matthews and the commitment to that play, I think Todd Gurley can benefit and I think we'll see him back there amongst the rushing leaders this season," Baldinger said.