Todd Gurley, Falcons run game looking for room to run

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter addresses the lackluster run attack following losses to Seattle and Dallas.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

With the addition of running back Todd Gurley and a retooled offensive line, the Falcons' revamped rushing attack is a work in progress.

The Falcons (0-2) are striving for more efficiency when they face the Chicago Bears (0-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons stayed with the rushing attack Sunday against Dallas, but it was ineffective. The inability to run the ball was a factor in the loss to the Cowboys, as they couldn’t run out the clock with their “four-minute” offense while holding a two-score lead, 39-30, with 4:57 to play.

“We need to be more efficient in the run,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “We did a good job of staying balanced. Even though we might not have made the yardage that we wanted, making them defend the run definitely helped our play-action game.”

Gurley was held to 61 yards on 21 carries. Overall, the Falcons rushed 34 times for 113 yards (3.3 yards per carry) against a defense that was missing middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

“Dallas tackled well,” Koetter said. “There were several runs that were close to breaking out, but they just didn’t quite break out. We got tripped up on our shoe tops a couple of times.”

With Vander Esch out, weakside linebacker Jaylon Smith picked up the slack with 13 tackles and received credit for slowing the Falcons' rushing attack.

“(Smith), their linebacker, I thought played a hell of a game,” Koetter said. “He was all over the field. We had a tough time getting to him on some of our zone schemes.”

Late in the game, the plan was simple. The Falcons wanted to run the ball, force the Cowboys to use their timeouts, pick up a two or three first downs and run out the clock.

Gurley gained six yards on first-and-10 from the Atlanta 25, and Dallas called timeout.

Gurley went around right end for four yards and a first down. After an unsuccessful challenge of the spot, Dallas burned timeout No. 2.

With 4:44 to go, it was first-and-10 from the 35, Gurley was stuffed for a 2-yard loss by Xavier Woods and Smith. Dallas used their final timeout.

On second-and-12 with 4:39 to play, the Falcon tried to catch the Cowboys off-guard with a pass and got sacked. Everson Griffen dropped Ryan for a 6-yard loss.

On third-and-18, they had to pass. Ryan hit wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus for a 10-yard gain, and Sterling Hofrichter came on to punt.

Earlier in Ryan’s career, the Falcons routinely ran out the clock with fullback Ovie Mughelli leading the way for Michael Turner.

“You’re going back a long ways with ol' Ovie,” Ryan said.

But in the four-minute offense, the offense must run the ball when the other team knows it’s coming.

“I really think we’re close, I think we’ve done a good job of creating some lanes,” Ryan said. “We have to do a little bit better job for everybody with finishing.”

A few more positive runs, and the game doesn’t come down to the onside-kick watch party.

“As for the four-minute, I thought the start of the four-minute for us last week was good,” Ryan said. “Getting the first first down was good and making them burn the two timeouts and burning the third before the sack is what you want to do.”

The 2-yard loss by Gurley threw them, of course.

“We had a misfire on the first down, which made it tough for us to overcome,” Ryan said. “In those situations, you’ve got to be perfect. You’ve got to nail every run opportunity that you have. We nailed three out of four and didn’t nail the fourth. That’s kind of where they fell this past week.”

It’s hard to simulate the run game in a non-live tackling situation. Also, without any exhibition games, the Falcons are working out some blocking issues in-season.

“They’ve also been really efficient in the run game as well,” Ryan said of the offensive line. “They’ve opened up some good holes for us. I really believe that if we keep at it, some of these runs are going to come out of the back end and create some explosive plays.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn also sees on film where the run game is improving. Gurley had 11 carries for 51 yards before the Seattle game went sideways early in the third quarter.

But the Dallas game also was a missed opportunity for the four-minute offense.

“Certainly, there were a couple of shots in the four-minute,” Quinn said. “We got a first down early, those are ones to where we can go nail it and end on it.”

The Falcons plan to keep working at the run game.

“Keep repping it,” Quinn said. "Keep pushing it and staying committed to it, is the way to go because you’ve got to keep hammering home. Sometimes you see a block and you see it again.

I’m encouraged by the scheme, and I’m encouraged about how we can execute it. Now we just need to do it over and over again. The more reps at it, the better."

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