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Falcons can't abandon running game

9/29/2011

When the Atlanta Falcons got their lone win of the season, I wrote that running back Michael Turner still is the backbone of the offense. Apparently coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey didn’t read the column or they disagree.

Thanks to some fine work by Mark Malzewski of ESPN Stats & Information, we now know the Falcons are calling pass plays more frequently than every other team except the Chicago Bears. According to Malzewski, 71 percent of Atlanta’s offensive calls have been pass plays and that includes plays that resulted in sacks or scrambles. Chicago is at 73.2 percent and the other NFC South teams are in the top six.

The Panthers have called for passes on 68.7 percent of their plays and rank third in the league. Tampa Bay is one spot below Carolina at 67.9 percent.

There’s a perception that New Orleans is the most pass-happy team in the NFC South. That’s not the reality. The Saints have called passes on 66.8 percent of their plays.

Going back to Atlanta, the Falcons have fallen behind in all three of their games and that plays some role in them passing so much. But they were down 10 points in the fourth quarter before they rallied to win against Philadelphia. A big part of the reason they won that game was because they didn’t abandon Turner and the running game.

I know the Falcons wanted to become more explosive on offense and throwing more often is a logical way to make that happen. But Turner averaged 20.9 carries per game last season as the Falcons went 13-3. This season, he's averaging just 14 carries a game and had only 11 carries for 20 yards in Sunday's 16-13 loss to Tampa Bay. Explosive plays don't come just from the passing game.

Turner had a 61-yard run against Philadelphia and a 53-yard run against Chicago. If he's getting the ball enough, Turner is bound to break off some big runs. If the Falcons allow Turner to establish the running game, that's going to make it a lot easier for quarterback Matt Ryan to team up with Roddy White and Julio Jones to make plays in the passing game.

Smith and Mularkey might want to keep that in mind.