In basketball, there is a phrase that states, “You live by the three, and die by the three”. In other words, although three pointers is an easier concept in terms of scoring the basketball compared to attacking the basket by dribbling past defenders, sometimes the easier path turns out to be one’s downfall.
At the end of Week 4, the Atlanta Falcons (1-3) arguably possess one of the most breath-taking passing offenses in the league when fully healthy. But early into the season, the Falcons greatest asset has become its greatest enemy and ultimately its biggest flaw.
Now, the thing that makes the Falcons one of the best teams when they are on their “A” game and an explosive team is because of its lightning strike ability in terms of its aerial assault.
On a team that has the best tandem of wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, without a doubt the best pass catching tight end in the history of the NFL in Tony Gonzalez, and X-Factors in Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas, no wonder the Falcons boast one of the best passing attacks that is as good as Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos or Aaron Rodger‘s Green Bay Packers.
Through the first four games, the Falcons are fourth in passing offense, as they average an astonishing 316.5 passing yards per game. Ryan has already passed for 1, 330 yards and tossed in eight touchdowns with 12 games still left to play.
Despite these gaudy numbers that are without doubt impressive, they have translated into one win and three losses, and most recently against the New England Patriots, only one touchdown out of six red zone attempts.
With the passing attack on fire, the Falcons’ running game has been a completely different story. The Falcons are averaging a meager 82 yards on the ground, which ranks them 24th in the NFL. In fact, recall Matt Ryan‘s first three years in the league from 2008-11, and the Falcons were one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, as Michael Turner became one of the best backs during that time span.
The point is, the Falcons have relied so much on Ryan’s arm and the passing attack, they forgot their roots in how they became one of the top teams not only within their division, but in the NFL. Mike Smith has also forgotten how important the running game was to his team and how it made them into a much tougher team than what they are today.
Now, I am not criticizing the Falcons for being an explosive passing team, nor am I stating that Smith is a terrible coach. Adapting is always a key part to any successful team, but adapting doesn’t mean forgetting where your roots lie.
In the first four games, the Falcons have abandoned the running game too early and too often. Instead of attacking the New Orleans Saints with their newly acquired running back Steven Jackson from the three-yard line, the Falcons opted to pass the ball. The Falcons ended up losing that game, as Ryan threw an interception on a fourth down attempt.
Against the San Francisco 49ers last year, the Falcons again quit on the running attack too early, as the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage.
In their latest loss against the Patriots, instead of rushing the ball and pounding it in for either a first down or a touchdown in the red zone, the Falcons chose to pass the ball instead.
Although the Falcons greatest strength is its passing game, it has become their greatest weakness, as the Falcons continue to struggle in the red zone. People forget that a good running attack only compliments the passing game, as Ryan is excellent in play action, which has become nearly non-existent.
If the Falcons continue to abandon their running game, they will continue to struggle in the red zone by being too one-dimensional. Every great offense understands the importance of a good running attack, as Tom Brady made several calls to get the running game going.
In the end, Brady torched the Falcons on a play action pass that proved to be one of the game-changing plays. The Falcons need to be more balanced, and in the process, it will make their passing attack that more dangerous.