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Too little, too late, but the Falcons are prioritizing the ground game against the Chiefs

Expect Atlanta to make a real effort to have more than, say, 10 unproductive carries in this one.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Falcons ground game has not been a legitimate strength since 2017, when it was in the top half of the league, and 2016, when it was one of the best attacks in the league. Under Steve Sarkisian, the attack gradually atrophied with Devonta Freeman hurt, and under Dirk Koetter last year, Devonta Freeman “enjoyed” the least productive campaign of his career up until that point.

The Falcons rushing attack ranks better against the rest of the league than it did just a year ago, but only narrowly. A couple of dominant Todd Gurley games and plenty of early season scoring from the team’s prized free agent signing have bolstered the rushing attack’s numbers, but the truth is that if not for Ito Smith’s recent emergence, this would probably look even worse than last year.

Here are the numbers for each of the three most-used backs thus far in 2020, with 2019 Devonta Freeman thrown in for good measure:

Todd Gurley: 13 games, 182 carries, 644 yards, 9 touchdowns, 3.5 yards per carry

Brian Hill: 14 games, 84 carries, 335 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.0 yards per carry

Ito Smith: 12 games, 50 carries, 213 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.3 yards per carry

2019 Devonta Freeman: 14 games, 184 carries, 656 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry

The upshot here is that nobody’s very successful in this Dirk Koetter ground game, but Raheem Morris has seen Ito Smith seize upon his opportunities of late and do something, which is why he’s at least the nominal starter right now. Morris, who is well aware he’s auditoning for a job in Atlanta or elsewhere after this season, appears to be throwing his weight behind Ito and is insisting that the Falcons have to find a way to get the ground game going over the final two weeks of the season.

You may recall that this is not the first time Morris has insisted this is a priority, though to little avail before now. After Morris said the below, the Falcons had 21 carries for 70 yards against San Diego and 13 carries for 37 yards against the Buccaneers, a sign of profound unseriousness from Dirk Koetter and the offense. The Bucs in particular have a terrific run defense, but Atlanta had a huge lead and no compelling ground game to grind time off the clock, and the Falcons barely even tried.

I’d love to see Atlanta actually get something going against a so-so Kansas City run defense, because it would show Koetter is capable of some kind of adjustments and it would mean Ito is continuing to do well enough to have a role in the backfield in 2021. But the reality is that the team’s inability to run the ball a three year problem that won’t be fixed until there’s a new staff and new personnel, no matter how much of a focus it will be against the Chiefs, and all we can really get is a glimpse of better days ahead if they actually do manage to run the ball effectively for once.