ATLANTA – The Falcons haven't been able to find much consistency on the ground this season, but they found a formula that worked Sunday during their 24-12 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Falcons gained 135 rushing yards in the win – their third-highest rushing total this season – with all three of the team's running backs making an impact. Brian Hill led the way with 66 yards on seven carries, an average of 9.4 yards per carry. Starter Devonta Freeman played multiple roles for Atlanta, carrying the ball 13 times for 53 yards and catching nine passes for 74 yards; he also had a pair of touchdowns, a 17-yard run to cap the opening drive and an 8-yard catch just minutes later.
Freeman played a large role on Atlanta's opening possession of the game. The sixth-year back had a 16-yard reception that moved the ball past midfield and followed that up with his first touchdown of the game just two plays later to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
"I thought it was a really good first drive for us," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Great run by Devonta, great blocking for that first touchdown."
The shiftiness and agility that makes Freeman a fun player to watch was on display early and often Sunday, and that was paired perfectly with Hill's downhill running style to give the Falcons a true one-two punch out of the backfield.
Hill broke off a few long runs against the Jaguars with carries of 13, 17 and 18 yards on the afternoon. He had his best performance at the end of the third quarter, gaining 41 of his 66 yards on a drive that ended with the Falcons' third touchdown of the afternoon. Finding creases in Jacksonville's defense, Hill didn't hesitate to hit the hole and showcased how effective he can be with a full head of steam.
"That's just my run style," Hill said, smiling. "If I see an opening I know that's hard to come by in the NFL, so I hit it full speed."
And if there isn't an opening?
"You've got to create one yourself, it's the only way."
Fortunately for Hill, he didn't have to create too many openings himself on Sunday as the Falcons' offensive line had another commendable performance. They made blocks at both the first and second levels of the defense to give their runners room, and they provided plenty of time for Ryan to complete 32 passes for 384 yards.
Penalties were the one glaring issue for Atlanta's offensive line. Hill wasn't the only player breaking off some big runs, as Freeman found himself in the open field more than once against Jacksonville. Yet seemingly every time Freeman broke off a big chunk of yardage a penalty negated his efforts, and he had 41 rushing yards wipe away due to holding infractions.
"It seemed like a couple of good runs came back on fouls today," Quinn said. "That's one part of the game – we've got plenty of stuff to work on – but that will certainly be one for us this weekend."
Nevertheless, the Falcons remained committed to gaining yards on the ground. Atlanta has become more creative with their run game as the season has rolled along, utilizing receiver reverses and a variety of screens and draws. The Falcons have also found important roles for young players like rookie Qadree Ollison, who has become the team's goal-line running back since the bye week.
"As it gets closer to the goal line I see that helmet go on on the sideline," Quinn said. "He's starting to feel it like it's his time. He does have a knack for sure down there, it's the size, the physicality."
Ollison has four touchdown runs this season, all of which have come at the goal line. He had his longest touchdown run of his career against the Jaguars, a 3-yard carry to finish off the drive that featured so much of Hill's downhill running.
After the 2018 season, the Falcons sought to improve it's short-yardage run game and Ollison appears to be their answer to that problem. He's been incredibly effective from close range, and believes he's earned the trust of the coaching staff in those situations.
Yet, for as exciting as scoring a touchdown in the NFL can be, Ollison said he lobbied the coaching staff to let Hill finish the drive he played such an integral role in establishing.
"I wanted B-Hill to actually get that one," Ollison said. "He ran all the way down there … B-Hill is leading the NFL in assists. I know we're not playing basketball, but he's always setting me up."