The Falcons, like most football teams, would love to achieve some sort of balance on offense. You run the ball effectively, you pass the ball effectively, and regardless of how the final carry counts and passing attempts shake out, you reduce a defense to dust through the combined effort of your strengths on the ground and through the air.
Sometimes, though, things become very unbalanced. In the Matt Ryan era, Atlanta was often throwing the ball more often than they were rushing it quite frequently, especially in the second Dirk Koetter era as the ground game become a shell of what it once was. In the early Arthur Smith era, it may wind up being unbalanced in the other direction, as it was on Sunday in a thrilling win over the Browns.
Let’s talk a little franchise history to put this one in context.
One of the quietest days through the air in Falcons history
You have to go back to 2001 to find the last game the Falcons completed seven or fewer passes in a game. That happened in a 20-13 win over the Cowboys, when Michael Vick and Doug Johnson completed just seven of 16 combined attempts for 65 yards (and incredibly, two touchdowns) and were buoyed by strong defense and 155 yards on the ground. You have to go back to 1985 to find the last time they completed less than seven passes in a single game, which happened in a massive36-0 blowout loss to the Bears where Dave Archer and Bob Holly combined to complete 3 of 17 passes for 16 yards.
As ESPN’s Mike Rothstein noted, it’s tied for the fifth-fewest completions in a win in team history, and it’s one of the lowest completion totals period in the past few decades of Falcons football.
Per @ESPNStatsInfo ... the Falcons' seven completed passes tie for the fifth-fewest in a win in franchise history, their lowest in a win since 2001.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) October 2, 2022
Mariota did manage 139 yards on those seven completions as the team continued to prioritize downfield damage, so this does not go down as a historically inept effort comparatively, especially since Atlanta managed a 117 yard effort with Matt Ryan just a year ago. Still, the passing game was poor enough against the Browns that it had to be carried by...
Historically great rushing production
This will not go down as Atlanta’s most productive day on the ground ever, but the Falcons still made some recent franchise history when they went for 202 combined yards today. It was not only the highest yardage total for Atlanta since 2018—they had just set the previous highest record total since 2018 in the previous game, when Cordarrelle Patterson went nuts and they rushed for 201—but it’s also the first time the Falcons have managed a pair of 200-plus yard games on the ground since 2016. Kyle Shanahan’s offense managed that twice in 2016 in a full season, whereas Atlanta has now done it twice in 2022 in...just four games.
If the Falcons can keep this up—something they’d surely like to do, given how effective and demoralizing this ground game has been the past two weeks—they have a shot at tying or breaking the franchise record for most 200 yard games on the ground, which stands at six in a single season. Atlanta set that mark twice in the DVD (Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick, and T.J. Duckett) era in 2004 and 2006 and also in 1986, when Gerald Riggs had a fantastic season and Cliff Austin, William Andrews, Sylvester Stamps, and Dave Archer also chipped in at least 200 yards each on the year.
It’s fair to say that the Falcons won’t want to have any more games this year where Marcus Mariota (or Desmond Ridder, when he eventually gets into games) only complete seven passes. A terrific rushing attack ensured they won this one regardless, and it’s nice to know they can carry the load even if this still-figuring-it-out passing game has a historically rough day.