I've been thinking about next season for a while, and part of me worries that we won't make a quick turnaround unless some things really change. It's hard to imagine a reality where both lines improve enough to make our team a contender again. One line change may not be enough.
So I thought about how we were able to make such a huge turnaround from '07 to '08.
First of all, our offense was incredibly efficient. Raise your hand if you know what year Matty's highest YPA was in!
I probably gave it away, but it was his rookie year. (Looking back, his 2010 was awesome)
What else happened his rookie year? Well, we had a younger, healthier, happier running game.
Turner had 1,699 yards, Norwood had 489 yards. Overall, 2400 yards rushing on the season.
Here's a table of how our running game fared up until this year.
2009: 1876 yards total - Turner, 871 - Snelling, 613
2010: 1891 yards total - Turner, 1371
2011: 1834 yards total - Turner, 1340
2012: 1397 yards total - Turner, 800
2013: 1247 yards total - Jackson, 543 - Quizz, 332
I don't know if you could say there's a correlation between our rushing numbers and our win totals, but certainly you could argue the quality of Matty's play (or perhaps more specifically, the 'wins added' by Matt) along with the record of the team could be related to the rushing totals of the Falcons.
That the Falcons went from 2400 yards rushing to 1247 in 5 seasons is alarming. Interestingly enough, Matt's passing yardage increased by amount the same amount the rushing totals decreased in the same time span.
Matty went from about 3,400 yards in 2008 to 4,500 yards this year. We could handle the lack of rushing because our quarterback is so damn good, but what happens when the OL we trot out there is not so damn good? The quarterback can't be himself and things start to go south.
It doesn't help that, not only were we the worst team in rushing yards per game, we also attempted the fewest rushes per game as well. (Strangely enough, 2nd fewest were the Dallas...Cowboys)
On the list of fewest yards per game, 9th fewest is the Saints, the lowest playoff team. This is a bit misleading, since this year's Saints were the first team in NFL history to have four players with 70 receptions. Guess how many of the four were running backs? (Two, Thomas and Sproles).
The Falcons either can't or don't desire to run that kind of extended handoff. Quizz, Jackson, and Snelling got 52, 33, and 29 receptions each, respectively. This is combined with the fact that we ran the ball, on average, 20 times per game. The Saints, even with all those RB receptions, ran it 24.4 times a game.
So what is it the Saints have that we don't? Well, they have an O-line that is far better than ours. Football Outsiders says that the Saints have the 7th best run-blocking OL compared to ours even though their yards per carry was actually lower than ours. Our OL was ranked 24th.
While the Chiefs made a huge turnaround from last year, I think those, like our 2008, are exceptions, rather than the rule. If we're going to make another exception, we have to get back to our roots: power running.
If Smitty and Co. are going to be stuck in their ways, then Dimitroff needs to accommodate them in any way possible. Folks, our pass blocking was about as horrid as it could get for most of the season. So instead of trying to improve both aspects of blocking, just get some road graders! The fear of Michael Turner made Matty's life a whole lot easier his rookie season.
Now think about how much better Matty is now than he was in 2008. Give him 2008 Turner/Run OL now and I promise you we're looking at a 2014 Super Bowl run. Our D wouldn't even need to improve that much because it already showed signs of life at the end of this season.
But we cannot have 2013 happen again. A mishmash of terrible blocking all around was masked numerous times by Matty. If we must improve one aspect of the line, we must improve the run blocking aspect of it.
We do that, and the rest will take care of itself.