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Improvement, not more carries, will be the way forward for the Falcons ground game

Dirk Koetter’s going to try, however successfully, to get it going.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have made it crystal clear that they want to run the ball more effectively in 2019. Running more is not necessarily welcome, given that the NFL’s best offenses tend to not grind it out on the ground, but running well would be a huge plus for this football team.

It would be fair to say that a lack of improvement from 2018 would be grounds for Dirk Koetter to be launched into the sun, given that Devonta Freeman missed almost all of the year, the Falcons were shaky at best on the ground, and the offensive line was only an asset for the team very early and very late in the year. But it’s still interesting to consider what a healthy Freeman, Ito Smith and Brian Hill might do with some new talent up front and Koetter calling plays, and D.J. Shockley with was only too happy to consider just that.

It’s a brief breakdown, but it’s worth watching to illustrate how Koetter managed to achieve some degree of success for the ground game despite working with exactly two healthy, effective running backs in Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith, both of whom were backups to aging starters Michael Turner and Steven Jackson. The personnel ought to be better for Koetter this time around—again, pending effective changes to the offensive line—and the Falcons aren’t abandoning their zone blocking at all.

There’s many arguments to be made for simply choosing better times to run and trying to get the Falcons’ backs a seam rather than running them into the teeth of the defense, especially with the increasing talent and effectiveness of defensive tackles seemingly leaguewide. The Falcons barely ran on first downs, ran too often on second down and long, and were the 30th overall team in percentage of run plays, period. The fact that they were still a top ten offense tells you plenty about how important the run game really is, but the Falcons also saw far too many drives die on the vine because of awful success on the ground. It appears to be one of the major reasons Steve Sarkisian is out of the door, coming in closely behind that brutal five game stretch and, you know, the losing.

There’s a long way to go before we even know for certain that Freeman will be healthy, much less what wrinkles Koetter might be planning to add, but I do think Koetter’s reputation as an offensive coordinator who can’t or won’t prioritize the run is overblown. I just hope the Falcons don’t overdo their attempt to balance things out, given the ongoing effectiveness of their passing game.