Undervaluing The Falcons Running Game

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 08: Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against Aaron Ross #31 of the New York Giants during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The usually sharp Bill Barnwell wrote a column the other day at Grantland regarding ten teams that did not get better. I half-expected to see the Atlanta Falcons on that list, and so my blood did not boil my very bones when I saw they had. What did surprise me was the position Barnwell chose to single out for criticism.

He went after the Falcons for not upgrading at running back.

Look, I'm no stranger to this argument. I've received my fair share of flack for arguing that Michael Turner is becoming less effective, and I'm not even going to bother to re-visit that argument here. The camps have been erected, the flags have been run and the arrows are still flying.

What we can agree on is that this is a curious argument to make. Barnwell basically argues that Turner was not as effective as his counting stats would suggest, something I don't entirely dispute. But to say that the Falcons haven't done anything to make the run game better is, in my mind, inaccurate.

It starts with the offensive line. Getting better production out of right guard and (hopefully) left tackle will improve the ground game by default. The Falcons struggled to run pretty much everywhere but behind Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo, so having healthy or new starters elsewhere can only improve that.

But the Falcons have also repeatedly said they like Jacquizz Rodgers. I think his size automatically leads analysts to anoint him as a change-of-pace back, but I think it's fair to suggest that Mike Smith sees enough power and agility in that frame to make him something more interesting. I'll be the first to admit I'm projecting a bit here, but there's no reason to dismiss Rodgers out of hand, either.

And then there's Turner himself. Barnwell's absolutely right that Turner has games where he disappears, and he offers next to nothing as a wide receiver. But with decent blocking in front of him and a chance to get into space, Turner is still a load to bring down and a pretty good back. I get that some think he's overhyped, but I think the pendulum has swung a bit far the other way when a guy who runs for 1,340 yards and punches in 11 touchdowns is being talked about like he should be put out to pasture.

Ultimately, while I see where Barnwell's coming from in his piece, I can't agree. I think the Falcons will continue to emphasize the pass game and have pushed their chips forward as far as improving the line goes. If the ground game doesn't look a bit better in 2012, I'll eat...I dunno, a pear? I'm not really fond of pears.

But maybe I'm crazy. What do you think?

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