It's funny how things come full circle...
For my money, the Atlanta Falcons were well on their way to procuring the Lombardi Trophy had they just stayed the course with their ground-and-pound approach to offensive football.
They had an excellent formula of moving the chains, limiting turnovers and wearing down defenses to the point where they looked like characters out of The Walking Dead.
Led by jackhammer-style running back Michael Turner and supported by precision-based signal-caller Matt Ryan, the Falcons created their own lane and found a tremendous amount of success in it—that is until they decided that keeping up with the Joneses (no pun intended) became more important than maintaining, and further developing, the continuity of their own style.
After multiple playoff defeats at the hands of pass-centric outfits like the Green Bay Packers, the Falcons' brass embarked on a new tactic to become more "explosive."
Hellbent on getting over the hump, the Falcons drafted possibly the next best receiver the NFL has to offer (Julio Jones, 2011 draft) to pair with the greatest tight end in league history (Tony Gonzalez) and one of the NFL's most prolific receivers in Roddy White.
After the acquisition of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the evolution was officially complete. The Falcons were redubbed "the greatest show on turf" and set franchise records behind the transformation.
But somewhere along the line, they took it entirely too far. They became flat-out soft.
The NFL, being as cyclical as my fiance's mood, is moving back toward being geared around the line of scrimmage. Ultra-physical teams like the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers seem poised to dominate for years to come.
Each forces the opposition to defend the entire field by pounding the ball and working off play action. It's not uncommon to see any of these teams accumulate more rushing yards than passing yards.
In the most frustrating season under the Falcons' current regime (4-12 record), which saw Atlanta lose to each of the aforementioned physical squads (twice to Carolina), there is beginning to be a groundswell of support for the Falcons to become "tougher." Falcons owner Arthur Blank conveyed that sentiment to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure.
This is the same Blank that undoubtedly led the explosive movement in the first place. Who are we to argue with Blank, though? Especially considering he looks like a character from the mob movie Goodfellas.
Dialing back on the finesse way of operating and becoming more balanced could find the Falcons back in contention as early as next season. They have quite a few holes on the personnel side of things, but that's nothing a great running back can't mitigate.
The Falcons need to think seriously about acquiring Houston Texans running back Ben Tate via free agency. The Turner acquisition immediately made the Falcons a contender, and that was on a less talented roster.
Tate, at 5'11" and 217 pounds, is very similar to Turner, as he is a veteran who has gotten a taste of high-level football playing behind one of the league's premier backs.
While Turner spent four seasons behind future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson as a San Diego Charger, Tate only has three years of service spelling the mercurial and electrifying Arian Foster.
|Tate and Turner's totals prior to free agency|
Many fans are clamoring for the Falcons to find a pass-receiving tight end to replace the retiring Gonzalez. However, it would be in the Falcons' best interest to find an in-line blocker to assist in the run game.
The threat Tate would provide would more than suffice in the pass game. In other words, his presence would not only force safeties to cheat up, but Ryan would get back to being the very best QB in the league off of play-action fakes. Tate is that good.
Tate is explosive, powerful and agile. He runs with ideal pad level and is excellent in pass protection. He's not a scheme-specific fit, as he would star in a man-blocking scheme as well as in the zone scheme he's played in with the Texans.
He will wear down a defense while being an outlet in the screen game. Talent-wise, Tate is one of the five best backs in the league and showed it this season despite playing with four broken ribs for the majority of the season.
Here, we see Tate running off tackle out of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end). This is the formation the Falcons should rely on heavily with the retirement of Gonzalez. The ability to usually make the first defender miss is what separates good backs from great ones.
Tate can not only run you over, but his agility in space is akin to that of much smaller backs.
Although this play is blocked well enough for Tate to have a "two-way go," pressing the back-side hole would've more than likely limited this gain. Tate will very rarely press the wrong hole due to his keen vision.
With the safety rapidly approaching, Tate is already thinking two steps ahead. Running back is a reactionary position, but those with the ability to think ahead usually stand out the most.
Tate pretends like he's going to outrun the safety to the pylon.
Then he proceeds to hit him with the football version of the crossover that even Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague would envy!
Of course, he runs through arm tackles like the Falcons ran through offensive linemen this season.
While Atlanta undoubtedly needs upgrades along its offensive line, signing Tate could help that unit look better as it's presently constructed. He's a cut above any back that's presently on the roster and among the most talented in the entire league.
With Atlanta already possessing one of the very best QBs the league has to offer in Matt Ryan, adding an explosive talent like Tate would be of major benefit to White and Jones out wide.
While the Falcons may never get back to their ground-and-pound ways of the past, operating with balance would make them virtually unstoppable.
They say lightning doesn't strike twice, but acquiring Tate may dispel that notion, as it would be akin to signing Turner in 2008. It's time for the Falcons to get back to "bully ball" and re-stake their claim as an upper-echelon NFL team.
Signing Tate would be a major step in that direction.