FAL­CONS’ STRUG­GLES IN RUN­NING GAME COME AT BAD TIME FOR COLE­MAN

The Island Packet - - Sports - BY CHARLES ODUM

This is not the way Tevin Cole­man hoped to pad his re­sume en­ter­ing pos­si­ble free agency.

Cole­man had an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to show he can be a lead run­ning back when At­lanta Fal­cons starter Devonta Free­man was placed on in­jured re­serve on Oct. 16. Cole­man had been pro­duc­tive in a shared role with Free­man the last three years, but his chance to shine as the clear-cut starter hasn’t worked out as planned.

The Fal­cons’ run­ning game has flopped. At­lanta ranks last in the NFL in rush­ing en­ter­ing Sun­day’s game at the Green Bay Pack­ers.

The blame can’t rest only on Cole­man and rookie backup Ito Smith. In re­cent weeks there has been no room to run be­hind a makeshift of­fen­sive line. It’s a big rea­son the Fal­cons (4-8) have lost four straight games .

In­stead of seiz­ing the job and in­creas­ing his value on the free-agent mar­ket, Cole­man has hit a wall. He has 14 car­ries for 14 yards in the last two games.

Cole­man said Wed­nes­day he’s not con­cerned about the pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial hit to his free-agent out­look.

“I’m re­ally not think­ing about that right now,” Cole­man said. “I’m just think­ing about play­ing my game.”

Smith had more car­ries than Cole­man in last week’s 26-16 loss to the Bal­ti­more Ravens , though nei­ther back was ef­fec­tive.

Smith had seven car­ries for 22 yards. Cole­man ran for only eight yards on a sea­son-low six car­ries.

“That wasn’t by de­sign at all,” said coach Dan Quinn of Cole­man’s re­duced role.

The Fal­cons ran only five plays in the third quar­ter against the Ravens’ top-ranked de­fense. Cole­man had three car­ries on At­lanta’s open­ing posses­sion and only three more the re­main­der of the game.

Cole­man lost yardage on three of his six car­ries.

“It’s def­i­nitely been frus­trat­ing but we’ve just got to keep on work­ing, keep com­ing out here and prac­tic­ing hard and get­ting the right looks we need to get,” Cole­man said.

When the run­ning game isn’t work­ing, Matt Ryan’s play-ac­tion pass­ing game also suf­fers. Ryan’s 131 yards pass­ing against the Ravens set a ca­reer low for a full game.

Clearly, it’s cru­cial for Cole­man and the Fal­cons to re­vive their run­ning at­tack.

“It sets up ev­ery­thing,” guard Ben Gar­land said Wed­nes­day. “We have to run the ball bet­ter so we’re al­lowed to run the ball more and have more play-pass. It sets up the rest of our of­fense

The Fal­cons face dif­fi­cult off­sea­son de­ci­sions at run­ning back.

Free­man signed a fiveyear, $41.25 mil­lion ex­ten­sion be­fore the 2017 sea­son, mak­ing him one of the NFL’s high­est paid run­ning backs. He has played in only two games this sea­son due to knee, foot and groin in­juries. Free­man and Cole­man each missed time with con­cus­sions in 2017.

Cole­man, in his fourth sea­son, ran for 107 yards in a Week 2 win over Carolina . He has only one other game with at least 60 yards. Over­all, he has 514 yards rush­ing with two touch­downs.

Sea­son-end­ing in­juries to start­ing guards Andy Le­vitre and Bran­don Fusco have hurt ground game, es­pe­cially in the last few weeks.

“Re­ally over the last four games is where we felt like we hit a wall,” Quinn said.

Quinn is try­ing ev­ery op­tion on the patch­work line. Zane Bea­dles started over Gar­land at right guard against the Ravens. On Wed­nes­day, Ty Sam­brailo took snaps ahead of start­ing right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Quinn has not said if Bea­dles will make an­other start or he will make a change at right tackle.

Break­ing the sea­son into four-game quar­ters, Quinn is look­ing at Sun­day’s game as the start of the team’s fourth quar­ter and an­other chance to find the miss­ing run­ning game.

DANNY KARNIK AP

On Sun­day, Fal­cons run­ning back Tevin Cole­man runs against the Ravens in At­lanta. Cole­man has 14 car­ries for 14 yards in the last two games.

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