Atlanta Falcons

To beat the best teams, Falcons need consistency from running backs

October 9, 2016 - Denver, CO, USA - Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman eludes Denver Broncos defenders Brandon Marshall, left, and T.J. Ward on his way to the end zone on a 31-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo (Photo by Mark Reis/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Mark Reis/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

It’s not at all difficult to find the common ground of the Atlanta Falcons’ two losses.

It’s as simple as one thing. If the Falcons run the ball well, they’re going to win. If they don’t run it well, they’re going to lose.

Everyone talks about how good quarterback Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are and they’re great. But, in the five games the Falcons have won, they’ve had a solid running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In the two games they’ve lost, the running game hasn’t shown up.

Take what happened in Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The tandem of Freeman and Coleman combined for just 50 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 17 attempts. Sure, it’s worth noting that Seattle has a strong defense, but the Atlanta running game should be at a point where it doesn’t have games like this.

The only game where the Falcons had fewer yards was in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay when Atlanta had only 42 rushing yards on 19 attempts. After the opener, the backfield started to produce the way the Falcons wanted. Freeman held onto the feature back role he had a year ago. But the Falcons also began giving Coleman more playing time. Both players have been productive.

Freeman is sixth in the league in rushing with 450 yards and two touchdowns. Coleman has been used more as a change-of-pace back and he has 170 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries. He also has had an impact catching balls out of the backfield with 18 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown.

In the five-game winning streak between the Tampa Bay and Seattle games, the Atlanta backfield tandem was about as good as any in the league. Just because the running game stalled against Seattle doesn’t mean it’s in trouble or suddenly falling apart. Every rushing attack is going to have some up and down games and what happened in Seattle is proof of that.

Every game is not going to be a high-rushing game,’’ Freeman said. “Every game isn’t going to be, ‘Freeman gets 200 yards and Tevin gets three touchdowns.’ Every game is not going to go that way.’’

Some teams, like Seattle, are going to stack the box to slow down the running game. Other teams are going to put extra attention on the explosive Jones. Freeman gave the Seattle defense credit for slowing the running game.

“There are great defensive players,’’ Freeman said. “Defenders, they get paid like we get paid, to do their job. I’m never mad at stuff like that, because it’s always something you can learn from. Every lesson is a blessing. That’s how I look at it. We’re going to learn from it. We’ll watch film and figure out what it’s going to take for us to continue to win. Next time we’re in that situation, hopefully we can overcome a lot of those things.’’

All the Falcons have to do to learn a lesson from the Seattle game is take a look at the film and the stat sheet. They can easily see they didn’t run the ball enough or get enough carries on the ground. The lesson is there, but can the Falcons follow it? The Falcons face another strong test this week when they play San Diego. The Chargers run defense is fifth in the league, allowing only 83.5 rushing yards per game.

Maybe Jones and Ryan will each have a big game. But, one thing is clear. The Falcons have to run the ball consistently well to win.

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