Anytime a team has an 8-1 record in the NFL, people want to look at you like you have lost your good senses when you try to criticize them. So I’m sure the hate mail and comments from Atlanta Falcons fans will come tumbling in after this column, but some things need to be said.
The Falcons can’t run the ball, at least not effectively. If they want to truly take that next step and make it to the Super Bowl and have a chance of winning it, then the running game has be be a factor.
Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers aren’t getting the job done, and something needs to change.
There were questions coming into the season about Turner’s ability to be the running back that he once was. The whispers weren’t even whispers…they were ear-piercing squawks. Turner had lost a step. Turner was too fat. Turner looked lazy.
Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Michael Turner, and very few of them were good. Still, head coach Mike Smith stood by his feature running back and said things would be fine.
Things aren’t fine.
The 4th-and-inches call against the New Orleans Saints that backfired and haunted the Falcons all season last year reared it’s ugly head once again in New Orleans last week. Atlanta had the ball inside the 5-yard line, and couldn’t punch it it. In fact, there seemed to be so little faith in the ability to run the ball in short yardage, that three out of the four plays were passes.
The one running play–Michael Turner up the middle–lost yardage.
Red Zone fail.
Things are no better with the Falcons’ other options at running back. Jacquizz Rodgers, who we’ve been hearing comparisons of Darren Sproles to for the better part of two seasons, has shown very little of that type of explosiveness. Every now and then, he’ll break a nice run, or get a big gainer out of a pass out in the flat, but nothing consistent enough to say “Rodgers is our next man”.
Jason Snelling? Well, he’s a backup. A very able and quality backup, but he’s not going to be that guy who can carry your run game week after week and take over a game in the 4th quarter.
Not all the blame can fall on the three backs. The offensive line has only been moderately effective, and certainly isn’t opening up any huge holes. Many times the Atlanta running backs find themselves dodging defenders in their own backfield. The play calling hasn’t exactly lent itself to compiling huge running numbers either. Dirk Koetter makes no apologies for his affinity for the short pass and screen plays, so the number of times the backs get the ball handed or pitched to them has been drastically reduced.
But good backs, more importantly good backs that play for championship caliber teams, know how to work past those obstacles. They make plays for themselves and don’t let anyone make excuses for their lack of production.
The NFL trade deadline came and went, and not surprisingly, the Falcons didn’t make any moves to upgrade themselves in the backfield. And that decision could be one that spells doom for this team in the playoffs.
If you look at the probable playoff opponents that the Falcons could face–the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers–you see a gauntlet of teams that all know how to pressure a quarterback and wreak havoc for a team that relies on passing the ball.
It could be another ugly, early first-round exit for Atlanta.
Given the strides that this team has taken in 2012, and the excitement and expectations that have been created for their fans, nothing could be worse.
Michael Turner needs to find himself again, and Jacquizz Rodgers needs to find the potential we’ve all been hearing about, or else the Falcons need to find a new tandem in the backfield. Hopefully, it’s not too late.