As is the case with every NFL team, the Atlanta Falcons spent their bye week analyzing their first half of the season and making adjustments for the games still to come.
During his evaluation of the Falcons’ performance during their 1-7 start to the 2019 season, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter saw one massive opportunity for improvement. The Falcons haven’t been able to run the ball nearly as often or effectively as Koetter would like, and he believes that can change.
“That’s one of the areas where I think we can make the most improvement in the second half of the year is in the run game,” Koetter said. “We just have to be more consistent across the board. That’s everything from sustaining blocks to our tracks to our blocking on the perimeter.”
The reasons for why Atlanta hasn’t had much success on the ground this season are nuanced – and explained in greater detail here – but the statistics reveal the extent of improvement needed. The Falcons currently average 68.5 rushing yards per game, which is 29th among the NFL’s 32 teams, and they have the fewest number of rush attempts in the league.
That is starkly in contrast with what Atlanta has been able to accomplish in the passing game. The Falcons average 317 yards per game through the air, which is the best mark in the league. When looking for ways to improve moving forward, it’s easy to see why the run game stands out.
“From an efficiency standpoint and an explosive standpoint, it’s not where we need it to be, not where we want it to be,” Koetter said of the Falcons’ ground game. “Surprisingly enough, that not being as efficient as we’d like it hasn’t hurt our play-action game. Our play-action game has been very efficient and very explosive, and usually those two things go hand-in-hand.”
Getting the run game turned around could involve changes to both the offensive scheme and the way the team utilizes some of its players.
Starting running back Devonta Freeman has just 333 yards on 97 carries, an average of 3.4 yards, and has yet to score a rushing touchdown. Second-year back Ito Smith is the only other Falcons player with more than 100 rushing yards, and has 106 yards on 22 carries, but he sustained a concussion against the Los Angeles Rams and it’s unclear where he stands in his recovery.
Brian Hill looked sharp while filling in for Smith as Freeman’s primary backup against the Seattle Seahawks, breaking off a 23-yard touchdown run. With the Falcons having an opportunity to look back at everything from the first half of the season, perhaps Hill has done enough to carve out a bigger role.
“You look at it from every angle,” Koetter said. “You probably just confirm all of the stuff you already knew. Some things that you’re doing well and you say, ‘Hey, why don’t we do that more?’ And other things that we’re not doing well that we either say we’ve got to do that better or we need to stop trying to do that.”