ATLANTA – Outside of two long runs from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons ground game struggled to get on track in a 20-17 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And as we've often seen through five games this season, as the Falcons' running game goes, so does the rest of the offense.
Freeman finished with 68 yards on nine carries, good enough for a 7.6 yards-per-carry average. But take away his 44-yard run in the first quarter, and Freeman was held to 24 yards on his other eight carries – 3 yards per run.
And the same goes for Coleman, who also had nine touches but finished with 32 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry. Coleman did score a touchdown in the second quarter.
Worth noting: while the Falcons finished with 100 rushing yards combined, 82 came in the first half. Coincidentally, the Falcons scored their 17 points in the first half.
As Falcons coach Dan Quinn has said numerous times, the run game is "such an important factor of what we are" and how so much of how Atlanta likes to attack defenses is predicated off the run game.
When the Falcons are hitting on big plays downfield, the run game is usually clicking and the play action is working. As Quinn noted earlier this season, "to be at our best, that's where some of the explosive plays happen on some of the play action plays."
Is it a surprise that Falcons didn't move the ball effectively against Miami? Not really. The Dolphins entered Sunday's game ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (75.5) and No. 3 in the league in rushing yards per game (3.15).
Miami has yet to give up more than 20 points in a game this season, too. In the Dolphins' five games, they've yielded 17, 20, 20, 10 and 17 points.
"I'm not surprised that they're playing well in the run game," Quinn said. "When I look at their tape, it starts up front."
And that was the case on Sunday, as the Dolphins were able to get penetration on a number of plays with the front four – Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Davon Godchaux and Andre Branch – while their linebacker cleaned up with most of the tackles. Wake and Suh each finished with a sack apiece. Strongside linebacker Lawrence Timmons led Miami with eight tackles (six tackles, two assists).
The Falcons scored on three of their first four drives and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. From that point on, self-inflicted mistakes and the Dolphins defense caught up with the Falcons offense. Atlanta's next five possessions went as follows: missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs, botched punt/turnover, and an interception.