Over the years and regardless of the Falcons team, we’ve heard cries for more play action in the Falcons offense. This year, Steve Sarkisian has heeded those cries.
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with the help of our friends at Football Outsiders. In 2016, the Falcons were simply the NFL’s best play action team with Kyle Shanahan at the helm, running those plays 27% of their total offensive snaps, picking up an average of 10.3 yards per attempt, and generally wreaking havoc as the best overall offense in the NFL. In 2017 during Steve Sarkisian’s rookie year, the Falcons dropped to 13th in the NFL in play action percentage (22%) and managed just 8.7 yards per play, a notable drop in usage and efficacy.
Considering that it’s no great secret that Matt Ryan is typically tremendously successful in play action situations, that drop was certainly a reason (if not the primary one) that this offense was less successful last year. That has changed a lot in 2018, though.
As you can see from the chart below, the Flacons have run the fourth-most play action snaps this season, and have been one of the more effective teams in the NFL when doing so.
For our friend @evansilva: Teams running the most/least PLAY ACTION and their yards per attempt when doing it.— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 23, 2018
Was surprised at the disparity between #FlyEaglesFly and #HereWeGo.#LARams #RavensFlock #InBrotherhood #ChiefsKingdom #SeizeTheDEY #GoPats #Skol #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/D22vqOQ5hb
It’s sort of remarkable that this has worked so well for Atlanta in a year when Devonta Freeman has been injured and neither Tevin Coleman or Ito Smith have been consistently effective at picking up positive yardage on the ground, but the reality is that even the smallest wrinkle is harmful to defenses when you have so many options to throw to. Atlanta’s passing game has been one of the league’s best, full stop, and it’s not particularly surprising that Matt Ryan is excelling further on play action passes when he almost always has.
The upshot here is that as long as the Falcons can keep passing at a high level and at least make a minor fuss about wanting to run, they should be one of the league’s better play action teams. So long as that continues to mean one of the better offenses in the NFL, I’m plenty happy with that.