Falcons face major task in rebuilding their running game
Coach Dan Quinn is not quite ready to look at rebuilding the Atlanta Falcons’ running game for next year.
He’s more concerned with stopping a five-game losing streak that derailed the season and dropped the Falcons (4-9) to the bottom of the NFC South before this past Sunday’s game.
But heading into the game against Arizona (3-10), there’s no escaping how poorly the Falcons have run the ball this year.
With top back Devonta Freeman injured most of the year and both starting guards on season-ending injured reserve, Atlanta is averaging 81.2 yards per game — last in the NFL.
What’s worse is the Falcons have little depth as they face a difficult task to find three starters in the offseason. With a high pick, they could draft a starting lineman and maybe sign another in free agency, but the backfield situation appears to be a mess.
“I recognize the question that we’re not meeting the mark on that one, but I think it’s unfair to talk about which player is here or not here and those things,” Quinn said last Thursday. “We’re really just focused on this game and this matchup.”
Atlanta made Freeman the league’s highest paid running back before the 2017 season, and he’s missed 13 games over the last two years with head, knee and groin injuries.
The Falcons hoped that Tevin Coleman would fill the void, but he only has 559 yards as the team’s leading rusher. Rookie Ito Smith, the next man up, has averaged 3.5 yards on 81 attempts.
Center Alex Mack, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has found it difficult to build much consistency on the line. He and left tackle Jake Matthews have been the only starters for every game. Five players have started at the guard spots, and Ty Sambrailo replaced Ryan Schraeder at right tackle in last week’s lopsided loss at Green Bay.
“It’s definitely not a point in your favor, but it’s not insurmountable,” Mack said. “We’ve had injuries in the past, and guys have done a really good job of stepping up and performing really well. It is more difficult when that happens and when games are tight and you get behind. You don’t have the luxury of trying to establish the run. You’re going to pass the ball more.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, leads a passing attack that ranks fourth, but Atlanta is so one-dimensional that opponents know what’s coming and can tee off on the 11-year veteran. Ryan is on track to get sacked a careerhigh 46 times.
A vacant run game is the reason why Ryan is being routinely pounded. Even though the Falcons had 124 yards rushing in the past weeks, it hardly felt like much of an achievement.
With Freeman injured most of the season, the Falcons have sunk to last in the NFL in rushing. Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith and the offensive line have do little complement the team’s high-profile passing attack, and the result is a 4-9 record and a five-game losing streak.