It's no secret: the Atlanta Falcons' ground game is struggling.
A team who had once consistently depended on Michael Turner's bruising-yet-explosive running style for 20, 30 carries a game has seen that mark split in half as Turner has regressed into a slower, less effective version of himself behind an offensive line that hasn't given him much room to run.
It has all culminated in a running attack that has managed just under 87 yards per game–fourth-worst in the league.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they can still turn things around on the ground. Here are three ways:
1. Spread 'em out
Time and time again the Falcons line up in I-formation, two-tight end sets and run Turner up the middle for no gain.
What they need to do is run more out of spread-based formations.
A perfect example was the Falcons' second offensive play of their Week 13 win over the New Orleans Saints.
In a two-receiver, single-tight end set, the Falcons run a basic weakside, off-tackle stretch run that has right guard Peter Konz set to seal the defensive tackle and right tackle Tyson Clabo assigned to block the defensive end out of the way, leaving fullback Mike Cox to take the linebacker head on.
The play essentially requires only three players to block their man, all of which do so successfully.
Result: a huge gap for Turner to run through and a 35-yard gain.
It's a simple concept: less linemen, less clutter. Less clutter, less chances Turner gets stuffed in the backfield.
2. Less Middle, More Right
You may have noticed the play shown above—and the one hyperlinked—were both run to the right. That wasn't by coincidence. The Falcons' most successful rush attempts this season have come on runs to the ride side of the line.
I could show countless examples, but a single chart says it all:
That's a collective total of 100 carries for 404 yards (four-yards-per-carry average) in runs to the right for Turner and Rodgers, while the pair have managed just 518 yards on 159 carries (3.2 yards-per-carry average) to the left and middle.
Perhaps the biggest reason for that difference in success? Among linemen, Pro Football Focus gives Pro Bowl right tackle Tyson Clabo a solid 3.6 grade in run-blocking efficiency, while much-maligned left tackle Sam Baker's minus-3.4 grade is better only than left guard Justin Blalock's minus-3.6 grade, essentially cancelling out center Todd McClure's team-leading 4.7 grade.
3. Less Turner, More Quizz
There are no statistics needed for this one. Jacquizz Rodgers has been thinking end zone every time he runs the ball, a mentality that has seemingly eluded Turner.
Rodgers runs with great vision, speed and power, all of which he displayed in his longest run of the season:
First, the vision.
As Rodgers receives the handoff from Ryan, the intended hole is immediately bottled up. In this situation, Turner likely would've gone head-first into the pile. Instead, Rodgers cuts back toward the sideline.
Then comes the power.
All signs point to Rodgers being headed for a three-yard loss as he's seemingly wrapped up by safety Nate Allen in the backfield while two more defenders are bearing down. But all Rodgers needs is one stiff arm to keep the play alive.
Well, that and a juke that leaves cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie grabbing air.
Finally comes the speed.
Surrounded by a convoy of Philadelphia Eagles defenders, it looks as though Rodgers' dazzling run will result in a mere five-yard gain.
But Rodgers turns on the jets, ultimately turning a potential three-yard loss into a 43-yard gain.
Of course, these three changes alone won't see the Falcons suddenly jump into the top 10 in rushing rankings between now and the end of the season.
But you can bet it'll surely see them feature a much more potent rushing attack than what they've fielded up to this point.
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