- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The big topic in Atlanta this week is the Falcons’ short-yardage running game.
It should be because the Falcons are a yard away from being 9-0. They had three plays at the New Orleans 1-yard line late in Sunday’s game, but couldn’t score. Two Matt Ryan passes fell incomplete, but the play most people are focusing on was the third-down run where Michael Turner got stuffed.
That’s a big deal because it’s become a trend for the Falcons this year.
“They are challenging because you need 1 yard and everybody knows you need 1 yard,’’ offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told the media Monday. “That’s what makes it challenging. It’s like you’re trying to make 1 yard and they’re trying to defend 1 yard. Maybe we ought to just pretend it’s third-and-10 and we might be better off.”
Might not be a bad idea because the Falcons aren’t getting the job done in short-yardage situations.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Turner has had nine carries inside the 3-yard line this season. They’ve resulted in two touchdowns and 1 net yard rushing. In goal-to-go situations, Turner has carried 17 times for three touchdowns and totaled 18 net yards.
But the problem isn’t just limited to the goal line. The Falcons have struggled in all short-yardage situations. When needing 2 or fewer yards on third or fourth down, the Falcons have converted 7 of 15 rushes (46.7 percent) into first downs. Only Detroit (37.5) has a worse percentage and the league average is 66.7 percent.
“It’s a bad thing,’’ Koetter said. “If you had a magic wand and could wave it, then it would be easy to fix everything if you had that magic wand.’’
There is no magic wand, but this is clearly an area where the Falcons have to improve if they’re going to go deep into the playoffs.
Let’s run through some suggestions on how to fix it:
Stop using Turner as the short-yardage back: It’s easy to put the blame on Turner. It’s pretty obvious age is catching up to him and he lacks the same explosiveness he had a few years ago. But who else are you going to turn to? Jason Snelling has good size, but he never has been a great short-yardage runner. Jacquizz Rodgers doesn’t have great size, but he’s got some muscle on him, is quick and can find holes. If you’re going to make a switch, Rodgers is the guy to go with. But he might not fare any better because maybe the problem isn’t all about Turner.
It starts up front: The offensive line has done a nice job pass blocking, but the overall run blocking hasn’t been good. It also didn’t help that blocking tight end Tommy Gallarda went down with a season-ending injury early in Sunday’s game. I don’t know that you can totally fix the overall run blocking in the middle of a season. But there are things you can do to help in short-yardage rushing. When the Falcons had some injuries at tight end and fullback earlier in the season, they used tackle Mike Johnson as an extra tight end and guard/center Joe Hawley as a fullback. The Falcons don’t have great blockers at tight end or fullback. It might be time to get Johnson and Hawley back on the field in those situations.
Forget the run? If everything continues to fail, maybe the Falcons should just abandon the run in goal-line situations. It wouldn’t be conventional, but it might be practical. When it comes to goal-to-goal passing, Ryan is among the league leaders. In those situations, he has completed 16 of 26 passes for 11 touchdowns.