The Atlanta Falcons had one of their best seasons in recent history, finishing the NFL regular season with a record of 13-3 and making it to the NFC Championship game. They even had a handy lead in that NFC Championship, but eventually fell victim to a fierce comeback by the San Francisco 49ers.
One of the key reasons why the Falcons were much improved was the performance of quarterback Matt Ryan and the reliance of the team’s offensive system on him. Ryan threw 615 passes and completed 68.6 percent of them for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. Reports leading into the season said that head coach Mike Smith had plans to open up the offense and he and Ryan delivered.
However, one of the thing that resulted in was them relying much less on the running game, which was also due to the decline of Michael Turner. On the season the Falcons rushed the ball just 378 times, with Turner taking 222 of those carries. He rushed for only 800 yards, though, an average of 3.6 yards per carry. He found the end zone 10 times, but those were largely goal line carries more than anything.
Now Turner is gone and the Falcons have brought in Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams, which seems like an improvement in the eyes of most people. The Falcons run-blocking was a little below-average last season, but so was the Rams. That didn’t stop Jackson from rushing for 1,042 yards on 257 carries, good for a 4.1 yards per carry average. More importantly, Jackson was able to stay healthy last season.
The Falcons offensive line is still somewhat of a worry, especially with the departure of Tyson Clabo and retirement of Todd McClure. However, they have upgraded at the running back position, which should mean a more potent running game and possibly a more balanced offense. Even if the Falcons decrease the focus on their passing game next season, Ryan could have a big year.
Defenses were able to somewhat key in on the Falcons passing game, particularly at the end of the year. Turner wasn’t as much of a threat as Ryan was dropping back to throw. If Jackson can be productive this season, that will force defenses to respect the run and drop fewer men into pass coverage. If that ends up being the case, expect Ryan to have an enormous year.