How the Falcons’ run game went from bad to great

Photo by Trent Legaspi | The Signal

The Atlanta Falcons have emerged as one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks through the first half of this season, being one of four teams to have over 1,000 yards on the ground. Last season the Falcons failed to hit 1,500 rushing yards, so why the dramatic shift in the offense?

Head coach Arthur Smith helped lead the Tennessee Titans to the second-best rushing offense in 2020 as their offensive coordinator. In his first season as the Falcons’ Head Coach, he ran an uncharacteristic pass-heavy offense but quickly switched to his typical run-heavy scheme.

A major reason for this change of pace comes from the glaring issues in the passing game, moving on from the 2016 MVP Matt Ryan to journeyman Marcus Mariota. They rank 30th in passing yards, and Mariota’s lack of precision ranks him 28th in the league passing accuracy at 28th. Head coach Arthur Smith has both shown his lack of confidence in the passing game and his extreme trust in the run game, as he puts the ball on the ground 62.9 percent of the time. 

In the week four matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta ran a total of 202 yards, with one drive consisting of a ten-play, 75-yard drive that consisted of only runs. “When the line is running like that, that’s what you call being in the flow, proud of those guys,” Smith said after the 23-20 win against Cleveland. “We knew it was going to be a big-boy fight. Seeing all the run attempts, and I always thought the team that ran the ball better today was going to win. That held true, thankfully.”

Even with their star running back, Cordarelle Patterson, out on Injured Reserve, the Falcons have continued their success rushing the ball with rookie running back Tyler Allgeier out of BYU, second-year back Caleb Huntley out of Ball State, and veteran quarterback Marcus Mariota, accumulating a total of 1,098 yards, ranking fourth in the NFL. Atlanta only has to gain 354 yards to beat their rushing totals from last season where they ranked 31st in rushing yards.

The Falcons owe a lot of their accomplishments to the improvement of the offensive line as it’s anchored by veteran left tackle Jake Matthews, and contains two young linemen in Chris Lindstrom, the second-rated guard in football according to Pro Football Focus, with an 86.0 grade, and tackle Kaleb McGary. Both are on the third year of their rookie contract and would prefer Atlanta picks up their fifth-year option.

Atlanta has a chance to increase their rushing total tremendously as they now have the easiest strength of schedule entering week eight, kicking off the second half of the season with the 2-5 Carolina Panthers. The running game alone has given the Falcons a chance to compete for first place in the division and make the playoffs. With Cordarelle Patterson’s inevitable return in the coming weeks, Atlanta can return to a winning culture that they haven’t seen since the 2017-2018 season.