John Bazemore/Associated Press
Even when the Atlanta Falcons were busy becoming the top seed in the NFC in 2012, something didn’t seem quite right.
Despite a 13-3 record that season, head coach Mike Smith’s team struggled to run the football and had its issues stopping it as well. How can we forget that the Falcons owned a 17-0 second-quarter lead at home in the NFC title game, only to see the San Francisco 49ers stick to their game plan and rally for a 28-24 win?
This past season, injuries and philosophy came to a head. No team gained fewer yards and totaled fewer rushing attempts in the NFL, and only the Chicago Bears were more inept in stopping the run.
Veteran running back Steven Jackson joined the Falcons in 2013 after nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams, the final eight which saw him rush for at least 1,000 yards. The three-time Pro Bowler missed four games and ran for only 543 yards and six scores. Jackson also caught 33 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown.
When it was all said and done, Smith’s club totaled 321 running plays and gained 1,247 yards on the ground. The latter figure was surpassed by seven players in the league in 2013.
But gauging by free agency and the draft, the Falcons are looking to reverse their fortunes in a few ways. On defense, they signed defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and they used seven of their nine selections in the draft on the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive side, they grabbed talented tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick and three rounds later added running back Devonta Freeman from Florida State.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network likes what he sees from Freeman, who plays bigger than his size would indicate.
“This kid for his size, is incredibly physical,” said Mayock, who also stated that there's “not a lot of tread on his tires” when referring to the 5’8”, 206-pound runner.
Jackson remains the starter with the Falcons and will look to bounce back from a disappointing year, as will the entire team. But you also get the feeling it will be tough to keep Freeman off the field.