Steven Jackson Is the Key to the Atlanta Falcons' Offense with Julio Jones Hurt
For many observers, any hopes the Atlanta Falcons had to turn around their season after a 1-4 start ended with the news that star wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the remainder of the 2013 season with a foot injury, according to the team's website.
Jones' value to Atlanta's offense cannot be understated. He was the best playmaker on a team that finds itself at 1-4 partly because it hasn't made enough plays in close games.
Even though things may seem grim at this point, the Falcons still have to take the field for 11 more games and head coach Mike Smith isn't the type of guy to just "pack it in" now. With Jones out of the picture, where will the Falcons offense turn?
The Falcons made the move to acquire Jones in the 2011 NFL draft because they believed that they weren't able make enough explosive offensive plays during their 13-3 2010 campaign. Now that Jones is done for the season, the irony is that the best way for Atlanta's offense to proceed may be to return to the model it used back in 2010.
That year, the Falcons were able to win 13 games and rank fifth in the league in points scored with essentially the same skill position group (subbing Steven Jackson in for the 2010 version of Michael Turner) they'll have now.
The key to the 2010 Falcons offense was ball control. They weren't able to score quickly like they've been able to do the last two seasons with Jones on the field, but they were able to pound teams into submission with Michael Turner on the ground and feature Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White in the intermediate passing game.
Getting back to a ball-control offense would really help the Falcons now because it would keep their struggling defense on the sideline and allow the Falcons to shorten games. If the Falcons want to get back to a ball-control offense, they're going to need Jackson to get healthy quickly.
If Jackson is healthy, this 2013 Falcons offense should theoretically be able to follow a similar model to the one Atlanta had in 2010 because they have a power back in Jackson and solid possession-receiver types in White, Harry Douglas, Gonzalez and Levine Toilolo.
Also, unlike Turner, this year's group of Falcons running backs, Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling is providing viable options in the passing game, too.
However, the problem is, the 2010 Falcons team had a veteran center in Todd McClure, a nasty right guard in Harvey Dahl, who had a career year, a Pro Bowl right tackle in Tyson Clabo and a stud fullback in Ovie Mughelli paving the way for its power run game.
This year's Falcons team will be relying on Peter Konz, Garrett Reynolds, Jeremy Trueblood and Patrick DiMarco to play those roles.
In addition, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are now three years older (White is also battling his own injury issues, according to ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter), and Steven Jackson will be fresh off a nagging thigh injury whenever he does get back onto the field after the bye week.
Moreover, even if the Falcons are able to to control the time of possession with this group, it won't matter much if they don't score touchdowns when they get to the red zone.
Nevertheless, with the team facing a divisional opponent in a game it has to have following the bye week, don't be shocked if you see Atlanta's offense trying to mimic some of what it did well in 2010 moving forward.
The Falcons no longer have firepower to keep up in a shootout without Julio Jones, but if their offense can find a way to keep games close by controlling the clock and limiting the opposing teams' possessions, they can still give themselves a shot to compete in every game left on their schedule.
All historical references are from Pro-Football-Reference.com
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