Falcons’ rushing attack off to slow start

The Falcons’ rushing attack is under construction.

They have averaged 65 yards over two games, which is 43.7 yards below the NFL average of 108.7 yards per game.

With Devonta Freeman returning from injury, he’s clearly still shaking off some rust.

“I like our approach although we are not (getting) the results for that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday. “We are going to keep digging at it hard.”

In the 28-12 loss to the Vikings on Sept. 8, backup running back Ito Smith had the longest run from scrimmage, a 16-yard gain followed by a 12-yard scramble by Matt Ryan.

In the 24-20 victory over the Eagles on Sunday night, Smith broke loose for a 28-yard gain. Freeman’s longest gain has been a 9-yard run against the Eagles.

“For us, the one here, the one there, the big explosive plays that take place, that usually puts you over the top where your averages (improve),” Quinn said. “We actually had some minus-6 and minus-5 that (hurt the average).”

Quinn believes that Freeman, who had knee, ankle and groin injuries before having sports-hernia surgery, is healthy.

“I think you saw that on the screen, although it wasn’t a running play,” Quinn said. “I think you saw the speed and the burst to finish. He looks stronger in a lot of ways. Although the numbers are not reflective of it, I like the work that we are putting it. It will get there.”

Freeman gained 28 yards on the screen pass in the third quarter against the Eagles.

“We want to be a run first team,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.

The Falcons called more runs against the Eagles that turned into pass plays.

“Now, what a lot of times people don’t realize is that (quarterback) Matt (Ryan) had six completions in that game (against the Eagles), he was 6-for-6 on plays that were runs, with passes tagged on them,” Koetter said. “RPOs, run alerts or whatever you want to call it, where we were actually blocking a run and if they would have given him the right look, he would have handed it off.”

Julio Jones’ 4-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter against Eagles was off an RPO.

“Actually, from the press box I thought he handed the ball off to Ito,” Koetter said.

The Falcons fell behind against Minnesota and had to abandon the run. Against the Eagles, they stuck with it and had 57 yards on 17 carries.

“There is more run game there than is actually handed off,” Koetter said. “Ito’s long run, that was an RPO. That was the same play that we ran in the first half where he faked it and hit (Calvin Ridley) over the middle and Rid took a hard hit from the safety.”

Koetter senses the run game will come alive.

“I thought we were really close to having some breakouts in the run game, but we were a little bit off,” Koetter said. “Maybe a small assignment or an execution mistake here and there. That’s something we’ll continue to work on.”

Koetter also thinks that Freeman is fine.

“I thought Free was better in this game,” Koetter said. “I thought Free really tried to run the ball hard downhill. In that first series, that little toss-crack was a good example of that. He had a couple of other runs.”

Ryan is confident that run game will get going.

“For sure, we’re close,” Ryan said “When you watch the game from the other night, even on the run plays that we were productive, we were very close to getting those to come out the back end. We have to keep working at it.”

Right guard Jamon Brown said the line and the backs are still working through some issues.

“For us offensively, it’s just Week 2,” Brown said. “We are still getting things together. We are still building that chemistry and camaraderie between the running backs and the offensive line.”

The Falcons know they’ll have to get the rushing game on track.

“At the end of it, what we know that we are good at we want to keep trying to feature,” Quinn said. “It started more slowly than we would have liked.

“Some of that in the first game was that we didn’t get a lot of chances to run the ball. In the second game, we certainly had enough chances to. It was improved, but not to where we think we can get to. We’ve got work to do, and we’ll keep at it.”


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