After strong first half, Falcons forced to turn away from Todd Gurley

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons running back Todd Gurley got off to hot start, but the offense had to a abandon the run in the second half.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Todd Gurley needed only one yard.

With the Seattle Seahawks defense tightening near the goal line, it became clear Gurley wouldn’t get into the end zone too easily. Therefore, on a third-and-1 from the goal line and with multiple Seahawks defenders crashing down, Gurley took the football airborne in order to cross the plane of the end zone.

Gurley capped off a nine-play drive to score his first touchdown as a member of the Falcons. Although the Falcons ended up losing 38-25, Gurley’s performance in the first half made it seem like the run game was going to be a tough area for the Seahawks to combat.

“We took what the defense gave us,” Gurley said. “Those guys up front did a great job, they held their own. We took what the defense gave us and got a couple of great runs at the beginning of the game. I felt like it was something for us to feed off of.”

Gurley carried the ball 10 times for 51 yards in the first half, giving him an average of over 5 yards per carry. He reeled off a 15-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and added a 10-yarder in the second quarter. Down 14-12 at the half, it appeared the Falcons would still be able to rely on the rushing attack through the remainder of the game.

Falcons running back Todd Gurley goes over the top of Seattle Seahawks defenders into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the season opener Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons running back Todd Gurley goes over the top of Seattle Seahawks defenders into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the season opener Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

But in the third quarter, the Seahawks scored with a 38-yard throw-and-catch from Russell Wilson to D.K. Metcalf, which capped a 10-play drive that ran 5:19 off of the game clock. Following a Falcons' turnover on the ensuing possession, the Seahawks scored another touchdown five plays later, from Wilson to tight end Greg Olsen.

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Suddenly trailing by 16 points, the Falcons' game-plan changed.

“With the two scores we weren’t able to stay in the same space,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “When you’re down a couple you’re just thinking of possessions -- getting a score, getting another. It would have been nice to continue into that space into the fourth quarter. But as the game went, in terms of carries and staying in it, that wasn’t how we could play at that time.”

While Gurley ran for 51 yards on 10 carries in the first half, he finished the game with 14 carries for 56 yards.

After running the ball 16 times as a team in the first half, the Falcons ran the ball only five times in the final two quarters. Conversely, quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball 54 times -- completing 37 passes for 450 yards, two touchdowns with an interception.

In total, the Falcons combined for 72 rushing yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

“It’s a part of football,” Gurley said. “You have to be able to control your emotions. But we have to be able to convert and turn a lot of those field goals into touchdowns and convert on third down, fourth down. That’ll be a learning experience for us. We have to get better.”

Improving the run game has been a big focal point for the Falcons all offseason. In 2019, the Falcons finished 30th in the NFL in rushing by averaging only 85.1 yards per game. After releasing Devonta Freeman this offseason, the Falcons brought in Gurley to help improve this area of the offense.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones gives his analysis of the loss to Seattle.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Receiver Julio Jones said he saw progress in this department.

“They did a great job with the way we came out running the ball,” Jones said. “I can see that and I can feel that energy, moving the ball down the field. (Gurley) did a great job. … The offensive line I felt did a great job.”

Said Ryan: “I thought Todd did a great job. We had some really positive runs in the first half and our offensive line did a nice job. We just got stalled out a little bit. We went for it three times on fourth down. That changes the scope of the ball game and we’ve got to find a way to convert in those situations.”

A year ago, the Falcons rushed for 73 yards in their season opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings. In that game, the Vikings got out to a big lead, which forced the Falcons to play catch-up much earlier than they did on Sunday. Seattle didn’t run away with this year’s opener until the second half, which allowed Gurley to find some success early on.

The Falcons will hope they don’t find themselves in such a deficit where they have to abandon the run game midway through the second half. Gurley knows that for this team to be successful, the run game needs to have a presence in all four quarters.

Otherwise, it becomes that much harder to get in the win column.

“We have to put it together and we have to do it now,” Gurley said. “You don’t want to fall behind in this league.”