Lost in the shuffle of Sunday's comeback win and all of the passing and kicking that had to happen before the Falcons finally shut the door on the Seahawks and moved on to the NFC Championship game was just how effective the running game and the all-around efforts of the backs was for the Falcons in getting them to that point.
The Falcons have been the first to say through most of the season that they've not run the ball as well as they'd like, but they've always managed to get some keys runs just when they needed them. Though Falcons head coach Mike Smith has openly stated his desire for a more consistently effective running game this year, he's repeatedly said how happy he's been that Atlanta has been able to run the ball when they needed it the most.
On Sunday they needed it and it came through for them, running for 167 yards against a tough Seattle defense that ranked 10th in the league in defending the run entering the game. The Falccons got 98 yards from Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers supplemented with 64 and the success on the ground kept Seattle's defense honest, especially with their talented safeties, and helped the passing game connect on some big, and often game-changing, plays.
"When you're able to balance your attack and sometimes it's based on how people are trying to defend you, it's very beneficial," Smith said on Monday. "When people are trying to defend the pass and they give you an opportunity to run it, and then you run it successfully and you're able to run it right off the bat with some success. We had a couple of explosive runs with Michael and Jacquizz carrying the ball. Both of them had explosive runs on that first drive. It kind of sets the tempo and sets the mood for what we're trying to get accomplished on the offensive side."
Turner's long of 33 yards came in the second quarter and it came one play before Matt Ryan's 47-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. Rodgers' long was easily the most impressive run of the game and a career long for the second-year back. It went for 45 yards and it ended the first quarter with a bang. Rodgers demonstrated a refusal to go down, breaking aroud four tackles as he ran over and through Seattle defenders on his way up the field.
"Jacquizz had a very good game for us," Smith said. "His all-purpose yards has been very important for us all season long. He did a very good job in pass protection. As we said, when we first drafted him we thought he was going to be a change of pace back. We're seeing more and more that he can handle all the duties that you ask of the running back, and he did a nice job yesterday."
Sunday's game showed the Falcons still have a running game and how effective it can be when done well inside Atlanta's pick-your-poison offense. The 167 yards on the ground was the highest on the season for the Falcons and their 6.4 yards per carry tied their season high. It was Turner's third-highest mark of the season and for Rodgers it was a season high.
"We were able to control the line of scrimmage for the most part," Smith said. "I think we did a very good job in our preparation. We spoke to our team all week about having the ability to run the football. We haven't run it as efficiently as we would've liked through the most part of the season. We did a very nice job. We got off to a very good start with some explosive runs. It was the most explosive we've been all season long in terms of running the football. I thought we did a good job with the rotation having different backs touch the football."
Jason Snelling wasn't used in the run game on Sunday, but he pitched in a TD catch out of the backfield and all three backs were pivotal in their blocking roles in the passing game. Rodgers' blocking was particularly noteworthy as he stepped in front of a Seattle blitzer with a free path to Ryan just before the QB connected with Tony Gonzalez to get the Falcons into field goal range as the fourth quarter wound down. Success on the ground like that again this week against the 49ers could give the Falcons a decided advantage on offense. San Francisco boasts a tough defense, particularly against the run, allowing 94.2 yards per game, the fourth-lowest mark in the league in 2012.