|Michael Turner was stuffed on a crucial third-and-1 rush late in Sunday's loss to the Saints. (US Presswire)|
The fact that they lost their first game this past Sunday shouldn’t be of primary importance to the Falcons. Every team in the NFL has lost at least once up to this point and now the Falcons don’t need to deal with mounting pressure and probing inquiries about a potential undefeated season.
The Falcons should be extremely concerned, however, with the manner in which they lost. They struggled with short-yardage situations all game, but no play was more prominent than Michael Turner's third-and-1 attempt from the Saints' 1-yard line. Down by four late in the fourth quarter, Turner was stuffed as the left side of the line (Sam Baker and Justin Blalock) caved in.
Center Todd McClure and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have both been vocal in the past few days about how the ineffective rushing attack doesn’t fall squarely on Turner’s shoulders. His numbers -- 13 rushes for 15 yards -- don’t help his case, but McClure has been adamant there isn’t one singular cause for the struggles.
“I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things knowing there’s more to it than five guys up front but we take the brunt of the blame,” he said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Koetter removed the blame from Turner entirely, saying the protection, for the most part, wasn’t adequate.
“When you look at the tape, on the majority of Mike Turner’s runs in the game the other day, he had no chance. We had free runners at the point of attack,” he told the newspaper.
McClure and Koetter are both right in that there are a number of components to consider when examining a rushing play, but one of them falls directly with coach Mike Smith.
Turner hadn’t been used in around 10 minutes of game time, spanning 12 plays over the course of two offensive series. Smith knows Turner needs time to get into a rushing groove and isn’t capable of stopping and starting like a younger, more agile back.
But nonetheless, Turner was in the backfield just three plays after Jacquizz Rodgers had broken an 18-yard run to get the Falcons into the redzone. As noted by former San Deigo Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson speaking on SiriusXM radio, “It takes rhythm. You have to run the football on a consistent basis to be good at it.” He later added, “You can’t make the transition to a passing team and expect to be the same type of running team.”
The fourth-quarter play will get the lion’s share of attention due to the circumstances, but Koetter also noted a surprising ongoing trend.
The Falcons convert on “60 percent on third-and-4-to-5; and we’re 50 percent on third-and-1-to-3. That’s very unusual,” he said.
It’s easier for the Falcons to convert on longer situations because they can stretch the defenses and take advantage of the matchups problems that reliable receivers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez pose. They simply don't have that stark advantage with the rushing game.
Regardless of the percentages, short-yardage situations aren’t going away. Near a first down or close to the goal line, Atlanta needs a consistent rushing threat.
If nothing else, at least the Falcons can pinpoint their faults.
Falcons make moves: After Atlanta surprisingly cut DE Ray Edwards on Monday, the Falcons signed WR Tim Toone and TE Chase Coffman to the active squad. Tight end Tommy Gallarda was added to the injured reserve list after injuring his shoulder in Sunday’s loss.
Both Toone and Coffman were with the Falcons during training camp but neither made the final roster. Coffman was signed off the practice squad.
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.