ATLANTA – On their opening possession of Friday night's preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Falcons gained four times as many rushing yards as they had in the entire first half of their loss to the New York Jets.
Tevin Coleman accounted for 29 of the Falcons' 32 rushing yards on their opening drive, including a pair of back-to-back 15-yard runs. The success Atlanta had running the ball had a positive impact on the offense's play-action passing. The Falcons' first touchdown of the game came on a 4-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Austin Hooper on a play-action rollout.
"When the run game and the play-action go hand in hand, it's such a challenge for the defense," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "So we really want to make sure we stay connected to that. When the play-action pass game is going good that meant the run game, at some point, was going good, because the linebackers or safeties are having to step up. If they were feeling like OK, you hit them on a couple of play[-action] passes and they try to play a little softer some of the runs can get going. So that's kind of the balance that you like to have."
The Falcons have a battle at the right guard spot between last year's starter Wes Schweitzer and free agent signee Brandon Fusco. Schweitzer started for Atlanta against the Jets, while Fusco started this week against the Chiefs, and he opened up a few big holes early on for the running backs.
After the game Fusco explained that establishing the run was a big emphasis in practice this week and that he wanted to put forth a quality effort after not playing the way they wanted to against the Jets. Like Quinn, Fusco also discussed the importance that an effective run game can have on opening up the passing game.
"Ever since I've been here the big emphasis is running the ball, wearing opponents out, and setting up for the big plays, play-action, that's what they're all about," Fusco said. "It's really important for us to get that run game going, open those holes, and then set everything else up. That's how this offense works."
In the first half, mostly played by the first- and second-team offense, the Falcons ran for 76 yards and completed 12 of their 17 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. A week after the Falcons averaged about five yards per pass, they averaged nearly 10 yards per pass in the first half on Friday night.
The difference was apparent, as Atlanta's fake handoffs drew Kansas City's linebackers a step closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing the Falcons to find receivers behind them for longer gains.
It's a blend that plays to the Falcons' strengths and highlights the potency of this team's offense. After failing to establish much of a rhythm in their first preseason game, the Falcons' first- and second-team offenses looked much sharper and more efficient – a term used frequently this week in practice – against the Chiefs.
While there may have been some hand-wringing by the fan base after the Falcons failed to score any points in New Jersey, Fusco said he didn't feel any added pressure in the huddle at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"It's really impressive how they go about their business," Fusco said. "A really calm huddle, calm and collected. No panic in that huddle, whatsoever. It's pretty cool, and it's a lot of fun. I've really never been around so much talent in my life, and it's really impressive. It really is."