In the third quarter of last week’s win over the Giants, the Falcons started a drive with four consecutive runs to Mike Davis. Those four runs translated into 29 yards. It made you wonder why the free-agent signing hasn’t been utilized as a bigger focal point of this offense.
Although the drive fizzled out, the emphasis on running the ball with Davis was encouraging after an abysmal first half. The Falcons ended up playing better in the second half, leading them to victory, albeit with a helping hand from a Giants team that can’t seem to hold onto interceptions or stop committing appalling penalties. What became apparent against the Giants is that the offense will need to rely on the running game more than anticipated.
For all of Matt Ryan’s savviness in the pocket and sharp decision-making, his inability to make throws downfield is hindering the offense. The lack of proven receiving weapons and stability on the offensive line certainty doesn’t help matters. Ryan remaining gun shy when operating in a clean pocket has to make Arthur Smith consider a stronger push towards committing to the ground game. It’s not going to be easy, considering the Falcons are the second-worst team in the league at rushing success rate at 28.1%, per PFF’s Mike Renner.
That number is slightly deflated when you consider that they already played the best run defense in the league in Tampa Bay. Despite those issues, the coaching staff must look to run the ball more often and more effectively in order for the offense to find some semblance of efficiency.
Understanding and maximizing the skillset of both running backs
When you can’t push the ball downfield, you must be creative in designing plays to keep defenses guessing and the chains moving. Cordarrelle Patterson has become the centerpiece of the Falcons offense during various stages of the last two games. The multidimensional weapon is capable of running in-between the tackles and taking quick passes for significant gains. What he offers as a ball carrier and receiver has made a massive difference. Patterson has averaged a league-leading 5.35 yards created per touch. His ability to identify small creases and run through contact has done wonders for an offense struggling to produce big plays with their two biggest weapons in Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts. Embracing what Patterson and Davis are as a tandem is a potential solution for the offense’s struggles.
Davis is one of the more intelligent, clever players in the league. The way he sold the end zone leap on Ryan’s game-tying touchdown pass to Lee Smith was brilliantly executed. Besides Pitts, no skill position player on the team has been more misused than Davis. They have barely used him on short-yardage and goal-line situations. Not really using more run-friendly formations has affected him in trying to get to the second level. That said, Davis is more than simply a sheer power back. In a full-time role last season, the former Panther showed elusiveness in evading defenders to gain extra yardage. Instead of depending on duo concepts where offensive linemen are combining on double teams, there are other ways Smith must look to get Davis more active and productive.
Running a more wide-zone scheme was designed to be more beneficial for an offensive line built on agility and lateral movement. Jake Matthews was enthusiastic about it during the off-season. Along with Matt Hennessey and Chris Lindstrom, Matthews is at his best on the move. The offense has looked fairly predictable and narrow at the start of the season. They need to challenge defensive fronts more laterally with the athleticism of their offensive line and Patterson’s versatility on sweeps. Creating more spacing can translate into chunk plays, particularly when trying to create more favorable looks on second and third down. Considering the offense looks incapable of generating explosive plays through the air, they will need to be more productive on first downs, led by the running game.
Adjustments for the upcoming matchup
One of the most disappointing units happens to be coming to Atlanta this weekend, because not many defenses were receiving more buzz than the Washington Football Team’s defense. A defensive line filled with first-round talent, capable of wrecking any offense, had analysts labeling them as one of the potential premier defenses in the league. They have looked discombobulated and overmatched so far this season.
Outside of the normally ferocious Jonathan Allen, nobody has played close to their capabilities. A group of Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne with Allen can cause problems for any offensive line on any given Sunday. That should give Smith plenty to consider when putting together his game plan.
As great as it would be for Ryan to connect with Ridley and Pitts on a few intermediate to deep throws, it’s hard to feel confident about the offensive line giving him the necessary protection to stand tall in the pocket and make those big-time throws. Opting for a more quick-hitting, run-heavy approach would be wise against a dangerous yet highly undisciplined group. Washington’s front seven has looked out of sorts, allowing significant yardage across the board. Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb constantly find themselves out of position.
Young and Sweat can lose their gap integrity often on running plays. While the matchup looks daunting on paper, there are ways for the Falcons to score points and control the pace of the game. It will be on the offense to take control, starting with astute play calling from Smith, utilizing an unorthodox running back tandem, and continued improvement from a beleaguered offensive line.