Goober Pyle

Expect a more consistent rushing attack in 2019

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https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/7/11/20689427/falcons-expect-a-more-consistent-rushing-attack-in-2019-devonta-freeman-tevin-coleman-ito-smith

 

With training camp only a few days away, it’s worth taking a closer look at the state of the Falcons’ roster. The position with the most significant turnover in terms of lost production is RB. 2018 starter Tevin Coleman, who took over for Devonta Freeman after his season-ending injury, departed in free agency to join Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.

Coleman was a key piece of the Falcons’ offense, particularly with his contributions in the receiving game. His game-breaking speed led to a lot of explosive plays and chunk yardage, and he was a major contributor on that historic 2016 offense. He struggled with consistency as a starting RB in 2018, as his vision, balance, and elusiveness weren’t enough to find success behind a porous offensive line.

His tendency to create big plays offset a lot of those issues, but that “boom-or-bust” running style led to a lot of unfavorable situations on second and third down. With a healthy Devonta Freemanreturning and an offseason emphasis on improving the offensive line, we should expect a far more consistent rushing attack for the Falcons this season. Will that be an improvement over an explosive but inconsistent ground game? Is that consistency more important to the offense than the big plays? Let’s dig a little deeper into the stats to find out.

In 2018, the Falcons finished 27th in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,573, or 98.3 yards/game. However, they were actually 12th in yards per carry average with 4.5—a very healthy number. You might wonder why Atlanta’s production was so low despite a top-15 finish in YPC: their number of rushing attempts. The Falcons were 30th in the NFL in rushing attempts with only 345. To give that some context, the Cleveland Browns were 16th (aka league average) in rushing attempts with 410—60 more than Atlanta.

Looking at these raw numbers paints a puzzling picture. Their YPC suggests a successful rushing attack, but their overall production suggests a poor one. Part of the problem stems from the team’s defensive struggles. If you’re trailing in a game and you have a potent passing attack at your disposal, you’re much more likely to throw the ball to catch up. The Falcons, for the record, had one of the NFL’s premier passing offenses in 2018: they were 4th in total passing yardage and T-7th in yards per attempt. They were also one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL with 617 passing attempts, good for 5th overall.

Diving deeper into the offense, we see a very interesting picture. If you haven’t been there already, I definitely recommend you check out Sharp Football Stats for extremely detailed breakdowns of every facet of a team’s offense and defense. We’ll be specifically looking at Sharp’s Directional Rushing Production, which you can find here. Make sure you select ATL to see the Falcons’ offense, specifically.

Tevin Coleman, as we all know, received the bulk of the carries with 167. In second place was Ito Smith with 90, and none of the other backs logged more than 20. To Coleman’s credit, he was very efficient on his carries: his 4.8 YPC average is very good. Smith struggled from an overall production standpoint, with a rather pedestrian 3.5 YPC.

The biggest red flag in these stats has to be the production of the Coleman/Smith duo on first down. Coleman logged a slightly above-average 4.2 YPC, but that paled in comparison to his very good 5.2 YPC on second down an excellent 9.0 YPC average on third down. Smith actually managed his best YPC on first down, but that was still only 3.9 YPC. Those numbers are particularly alarming for an offense that ran most frequently on first down: 162 of their rushing attempts (54%) came on first down, compared to 121 (40%) on second down and only 14 (5%) on third down.

It’s abundantly clear that the Falcons’ didn’t trust their short yardage running game based on those third down numbers. Atlanta was also abysmal running behind center and right guard, with 3.2 and 3.1 YPC, respectively. That might explain why the Falcons were so eager to improve their interior OL, and it’s likely that Alex Mack’s performance was impacted heavily by the poor play around him.

With a struggling defense and poor production on first down, the Falcons’ offense often found themselves behind the sticks in 2018 despite the explosive plays offered by Coleman. Heading into 2019, Atlanta is expecting an improved defense and offensive line. But instead of looking to replace Coleman with another explosive RB (although you could argue that Marcus Green might fill a similar role), the Falcons targeted a short-yardage back in Qadree Ollison. This suggests a move towards consistency and balance on offense, which was a key to their success in 2016.

By comparison, the 2016 offense was far more balanced between the run and pass. The Falcons were, incredibly, 26th in passing attempts that season—and still finished as the NFL’s 3rd most productive pass offense due to Ryan’s absurd 9.2 YPA. Atlanta’s ground attack finished 12th in rushing attempts with 421—almost 80 more than their 2018 season. Part of that certainly leads back to game script, as the Falcons frequently led late in games. But the other side of the coin is the first down production: Devonta Freeman (and Coleman) were far more consistent in 2016, with 5.4 and 5.0 YPC, respectively.

The goal should be to return to the 2016 offensive strategy, not the 2018 (and 2017) strategy. Having Freeman as the lead back—who offers far more consistency—and an improved offensive line should move the needle in the right direction. Part of the reason the 2016 offense was so deadly was the ability of Freeman to put the offense in 2nd/3rd and short, opening up the playbook for more deep shots and play action throws. The addition of rookie Qadree Ollison to the RB corps also opens the door for a more physical presence in short-yardage situations.

Despite the NFL trending more and more towards passing, we are still seeing balanced offensive attacks thrive. Kansas City and New England, in particular, stood out for their ability to win with both the run and pass game in 2018. The Falcons will be hoping to return to that style in 2019, and a more consistent ground game will go a long way in fulfilling that goal. They’ll miss the big-play threat that Coleman added out of the backfield, but with a plethora of receiving weapons that can stretch the field (Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper) that loss won’t hurt as much as it could have.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ rushing attack heading into 2019? Do you think a consistent ground game is more important than an explosive but unreliable one? How big of a difference will Freeman’s return and the OL upgrades make to Atlanta’s 2019 offense?

 

 

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Reviving the run game and putting some teeth into it for short yardage situations was clearly one of, if not the top priority this off-season. I agree that having a run game which will produce 5 yards or more on first down definitely helped Shanny open up the playbook on 2nd and 3rd down and set our offense up to score a ton of points per game. Certainly feel we'll be a lot closer to the 2016 run model than the 2017-18 version this season.

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30 minutes ago, athell said:

Been saying this all along!  Free due for a big year but haters gonna hate.

When healthy, has Freeman ever been anything other than a top-10 running back?  No. People (not you) just have short or revisionist history

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Having Freeman back and Coleman gone improves the running game outright. The improved OL helps on top of that. Throw in a very diverse RB stable and it comes down to OC utilization of the talent he has in the backfield. I know a lot of people will miss Coleman and the highlights, but I'm looking forward to a consistent ground game again, which Coleman didn't provide. 

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33 minutes ago, FalconsIn2020 said:

When healthy, has Freeman ever been anything other than a top-10 running back?  No. People (not you) just have short or revisionist history

Nope.  When healthy he has produced like a top 5 back.

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35 minutes ago, vel said:

Having Freeman back and Coleman gone improves the running game outright. The improved OL helps on top of that. Throw in a very diverse RB stable and it comes down to OC utilization of the talent he has in the backfield. I know a lot of people will miss Coleman and the highlights, but I'm looking forward to a consistent ground game again, which Coleman didn't provide. 

I disagree with the Coleman didn’t provide anything part. As awful as that line played last year, I’m willing to bet Freeman wouldn’t have been much better than Coleman was. I know a lot of you guys(not saying you) think Freeeman is a future Hall of Famer already but there’s only so much a running back can do when the offensive line only plays well 2-3 times in a season. Then you have to consider the fact that they were trying to play catch-up a lot too so the run game was irrelevant in most games due to that alone. Momentum boosts is real and the falcons didn’t have many high momentum moments

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1 hour ago, FalconsIn2020 said:

When healthy, has Freeman ever been anything other than a top-10 running back?  No. People (not you) just have short or revisionist history

Top 5. Period. 

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1 minute ago, ya_boi_j said:

I disagree with the Coleman didn’t provide anything part. As awful as that line played last year, I’m willing to bet Freeman wouldn’t have been much better than Coleman was. I know a lot of you guys(not saying you) think Freeeman is a future Hall of Famer already but there’s only so much a running back can do when the offensive line only plays well 2-3 times in a season. Then you have to consider the fact that they were trying to play catch-up a lot too so the run game was irrelevant in most games due to that alone. Momentum boosts is real and the falcons didn’t have many high momentum moments

There are so many holes Coleman missed because he was very prone to bouncing everything to the sideline. He doesn't know how to set up blocks or anticipate holes opening. He doesn't run with varying speed, resulting in a less than patient running style. His stride is too long, so he can't make any shifty moves, making him seem stiff and more prone to shoe string tackles. All of those things have nothing to do with a poor OL. Look at how Ito was able to take advantage with less snaps as a rookie. His shiftiness helped him create. It's the NFL. The OL isn't going to be perfect, but Coleman needed above average OL play to break or it was a bad run. He's a good space player and that's why getting him the ball on screens or throwing him the ball in space was brilliant from Kyle. Tosses were a smart idea to get him in space quicker from Sark. But teams knew he was never going to run inside and just started funneling him to the sideline. That's why most of his highlights, he's untouched. 

Look at the highlights from the Washington game. I think that shows the contrast between Coleman and Ito. Coleman had the better game, but it was all space plays (screens, tosses). Even his inside runs, you can see the OL blocked a lane that you and I could run through. Coleman didn't have to create much of anything. Ito ran better in the Bengals and Packers games. 

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15 minutes ago, vel said:

There are so many holes Coleman missed because he was very prone to bouncing everything to the sideline. He doesn't know how to set up blocks or anticipate holes opening. He doesn't run with varying speed, resulting in a less than patient running style. His stride is too long, so he can't make any shifty moves, making him seem stiff and more prone to shoe string tackles. All of those things have nothing to do with a poor OL. Look at how Ito was able to take advantage with less snaps as a rookie. His shiftiness helped him create. It's the NFL. The OL isn't going to be perfect, but Coleman needed above average OL play to break or it was a bad run. He's a good space player and that's why getting him the ball on screens or throwing him the ball in space was brilliant from Kyle. Tosses were a smart idea to get him in space quicker from Sark. But teams knew he was never going to run inside and just started funneling him to the sideline. That's why most of his highlights, he's untouched. 

Look at the highlights from the Washington game. I think that shows the contrast between Coleman and Ito. Coleman had the better game, but it was all space plays (screens, tosses). Even his inside runs, you can see the OL blocked a lane that you and I could run through. Coleman didn't have to create much of anything. Ito ran better in the Bengals and Packers games. 

There were rare moments during the season in which the line actually did their job. Hard to anticipate anything when you have minimal help. The issue I see most of you having is that you get caught up in making comparisons. I think we all know that Coleman is a different back than Freeman and even Ito. We all know Freeman has better vision and other attributes that got him paid. Can't hold Coleman to that standard IMO because you go in knowing that isn't Coleman's game. If the OL doesn't do their job good enough, any back similar to Coleman is going to fail, that just is what it is.

That being said, we can take it back to before Freeman even got injured in 2017, he was having major up and down spurts throughout that season due to snotty OL play. As good as Freeman is even he couldn't compensate for their bad play but the only thing anyone will point to is that he averaged 4.4 YPC(not sure if accurate) but that's an easy average to have when your attempt count is low. 10 carries for 45 yards each week is an easy 4.5 YPC(not saying that is what it was but that's just an example). Seeing that in 2017 alone leads me to believe that even a healthy Freeman would have struggled behind that trash on the line last season. They probably had 2-3 great games as I mentioned and a few flash points during the other games where they actually did what they were supposed to do and both backs took advantage. I get that it's easy to bash Coleman because he lacks what Freeman offers but you hold him to the same standards as you do Freeman considering that very point

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2 hours ago, FalconsIn2020 said:

When healthy,

has Freeman ever been anything other than a top-10 running back?  No. People (not you) just have short or revisionist history

I hope his conversations with Warrick Dunn took deep root (about running smarter). 

If he can avoid unnecessary head-butting and maybe not try to punish every single defender in his path, he'll hopefully be there and fresh enough toward the vital division stretch in the season's second half. 

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Some of us here have been saying we’ll have a more consistent run game this. Some of us have questioned whether the line will gel or not. But this article solely focuses on the runners, not the blockers.  

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1 hour ago, ya_boi_j said:

There were rare moments during the season in which the line actually did their job. Hard to anticipate anything when you have minimal help. The issue I see most of you having is that you get caught up in making comparisons. I think we all know that Coleman is a different back than Freeman and even Ito. We all know Freeman has better vision and other attributes that got him paid. Can't hold Coleman to that standard IMO because you go in knowing that isn't Coleman's game. If the OL doesn't do their job good enough, any back similar to Coleman is going to fail, that just is what it is.

That being said, we can take it back to before Freeman even got injured in 2017, he was having major up and down spurts throughout that season due to snotty OL play. As good as Freeman is even he couldn't compensate for their bad play but the only thing anyone will point to is that he averaged 4.4 YPC(not sure if accurate) but that's an easy average to have when your attempt count is low. 10 carries for 45 yards each week is an easy 4.5 YPC(not saying that is what it was but that's just an example). Seeing that in 2017 alone leads me to believe that even a healthy Freeman would have struggled behind that trash on the line last season. They probably had 2-3 great games as I mentioned and a few flash points during the other games where they actually did what they were supposed to do and both backs took advantage. I get that it's easy to bash Coleman because he lacks what Freeman offers but you hold him to the same standards as you do Freeman considering that very point

All of my complaints about Coleman are complaints I'd have if he wasn't a Falcon. I had them when he was drafted and they haven't improved. 

Freeman would have struggled, yes, because you still need blocking. But there were several runs that Coleman had 0-2 yards that would have been better runs had he had better vision or agility. It's not a comparison to anybody, it's a lack of ability/skill that his is missing. 

He's a straight line RB with little wiggle, little vision, and little physicality. I've said it since 2015. Get him in space and he's an absolute terror. When defenses saw him on the field, they knew if he was running the ball, it was towards the sideline. They essentially would string him out and he'd go out of bounds. He never was a threat to truck you nor juke you, so teams played to that. He broke some, which skews his averages, but he whiffed much more because of it. There is a reason there wasn't a glut of teams chasing after Coleman in FA...

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7 minutes ago, vel said:

All of my complaints about Coleman are complaints I'd have if he wasn't a Falcon. I had them when he was drafted and they haven't improved. 

Freeman would have struggled, yes, because you still need blocking. But there were several runs that Coleman had 0-2 yards that would have been better runs had he had better vision or agility. It's not a comparison to anybody, it's a lack of ability/skill that his is missing. 

He's a straight line RB with little wiggle, little vision, and little physicality. I've said it since 2015. Get him in space and he's an absolute terror. When defenses saw him on the field, they knew if he was running the ball, it was towards the sideline. They essentially would string him out and he'd go out of bounds. He never was a threat to truck you nor juke you, so teams played to that. He broke some, which skews his averages, but he whiffed much more because of it. There is a reason there wasn't a glut of teams chasing after Coleman in FA...

Here's my thing though, was he ever tasked to improve or was the decision always to try to use his strengths alone?? That's a question that can't be answered here.

Strictly judging what Quinn and the 2 OC's said during their time, they use players to their strength and try their best to put them in a position to succeed. We've never heard them say Coleman was working on any one aspect of his game that needed to be improved vs what we've heard the staff say other players were working on specific things. So the only thing I can guess is Coleman had one responsibility outside of blocking sometimes and that was get the rock and run as fast as you can. That's pretty much how he came into the league. He had no reason to have vision or be shifty because of the crap level of competition he mostly faced.

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Just now, ya_boi_j said:

Here's my thing though, was he ever tasked to improve or was the decision always to try to use his strengths alone?? That's a question that can't be answered here.

Strictly judging what Quinn and the 2 OC's said during their time, they use players to their strength and try their best to put them in a position to succeed. We've never heard them say Coleman was working on any one aspect of his game that needed to be improved vs what we've heard the staff say other players were working on specific things. So the only thing I can guess is Coleman had one responsibility outside of blocking sometimes and that was get the rock and run as fast as you can. That's pretty much how he came into the league. He had no reason to have vision or be shifty because of the crap level of competition he mostly faced.

He had four years to improve and didn't. Whether he was tasked to or not is not my concern. He didn't. The bold is my point. Get the ball and just run. That's all he does. That's what made him a pro. Doesn't make me a fan though. I appreciate all the big plays he provided, but that just doesn't lead to a consistent ground game, which is the point of the thread. 

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15 minutes ago, vel said:

He had four years to improve and didn't. Whether he was tasked to or not is not my concern. He didn't. The bold is my point. Get the ball and just run. That's all he does. That's what made him a pro. Doesn't make me a fan though. I appreciate all the big plays he provided, but that just doesn't lead to a consistent ground game, which is the point of the thread. 

Whether he was asked to or not plays a huge part in it so you can't overlook that no matter how much you weren't satisfied with his lack of what you thought he needed. My whole point to your initial post saying Coleman didn't provide consistency, he needed help consistently and that wasn't there. Can't blame the lack of production on the ground on him

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14 minutes ago, ya_boi_j said:

Whether he was asked to or not plays a huge part in it so you can't overlook that no matter how much you weren't satisfied with his lack of what you thought he needed. My whole point to your initial post saying Coleman didn't provide consistency, he needed help consistently and that wasn't there. Can't blame the lack of production on the ground on him

It didn't happen, so whether he was asked to or not doesn't matter. He wasn't a consistent runner, which lead to an inconsistent rushing attack in part with the poor run blocking. Freeman wouldn't have solved the rushing attack woes, but it would not have been 28th in the league with him. With him gone, Freeman and Ito give you runners who can create, which helps alleviate the need for the OL to be near perfect for a ground game to exist. Throw in Ollison for power/short yardage and Green for blazing speed/air back and you have a well rounded group. 

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1 minute ago, vel said:

It didn't happen, so whether he was asked to or not doesn't matter. He wasn't a consistent runner, which lead to an inconsistent rushing attack in part with the poor run blocking. Freeman wouldn't have solved the rushing attack woes, but it would not have been 28th in the league with him. With him gone, Freeman and Ito give you runners who can create, which helps alleviate the need for the OL to be near perfect for a ground game to exist. Throw in Ollison for power/short yardage and Green for blazing speed/air back and you have a well rounded group. 

You can disregard what I mentioned all day long if you choose. If they didn’t tell him to work on specific parts of his game then Hard for an above average running back to be consistent when he has no help. It’s very, very easy to say this years group will perform better given the actual upgrades (on paper) to the OL. Had this full group been the starting line last season I’d wager things would have been different. That can’t be proven so that’s irrelevant but you can’t judge him because he didn’t do what you expected during his tenure. 

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4 hours ago, athell said:

Been saying this all along!  Free due for a big year but haters gonna hate.

Yes, I believe that.  But, I think the situation is better than that.  If you look at the improvements to the defense, allowing us to better take and manage leads, and the improvements (hopefully) to the OL, then not only will Free be in a better situation, but Ito Smith will have the opportunity to show what he can do with a lead and better blocking.  I expect Smith to get a 4+ YPC average this season.  Also, Ito Smith may be better than Free in short yardage.  Now, what if Ollison becomes an effective runner this season?

The defense is an "if", but has proven itself in the past.  I think it rebounds with several good players returning from injury.  Ito Smith is an "if", but did well enough playing from behind with poor blocking.  I think he improves.  The OL is an "if", but between Brown, Carpenter, Lindstrom, and McGary we should find at least a solid guard and tackle.  The passing game will improve with Ridley having a season of experience and an OL that will hopefully give Ryan more time.  This may lead to playing with leads more often.

If the passing game improves, the running game improves.  If the running game improves, ...

I don't know if Koetter can attack defenses the way Shanahan did, but the removal if Sarkisian is a positive that is doubled up with the addition of Koetter.  Yes, I think Sark was that bad at times.  I think every facet of the 2019 Falcons is improved over 2018.  Is it enough to get us all what we want?

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15 minutes ago, ya_boi_j said:

You can disregard what I mentioned all day long if you choose. If they didn’t tell him to work on specific parts of his game then Hard for an above average running back to be consistent when he has no help. It’s very, very easy to say this years group will perform better given the actual upgrades (on paper) to the OL. Had this full group been the starting line last season I’d wager things would have been different. That can’t be proven so that’s irrelevant but you can’t judge him because he didn’t do what you expected during his tenure. 

You're arguing some hypothetical point. The fact is, his vision, agility, and physicality didn't improve in four years. Whether they told him to work on it or not is irrelevant and a different argument altogether. 

He did exactly what I thought he would: be a boom or bust RB with very high highs and more head scratching lows. Those backs are heavily dependent upon ideal conditions to produce at any level of consistency. We saw that last year when the OL wasn't there. We saw in 2016 when the OL was. I acknowledged the OL improving will help, so that point was already agreed upon. Coleman will have the same inconsistency issues in San Fran. I'd be willing to bet he sniffs a 50/50 run/pass split on his touches because he's more air back than running back. In space, he's hard to stop. But it's hard to get a running back in space by handing him the ball. And when he's handed the ball, his flaws are magnified. 

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2 minutes ago, vel said:

You're arguing some hypothetical point. The fact is, his vision, agility, and physicality didn't improve in four years. Whether they told him to work on it or not is irrelevant and a different argument altogether. 

He did exactly what I thought he would: be a boom or bust RB with very high highs and more head scratching lows. Those backs are heavily dependent upon ideal conditions to produce at any level of consistency. We saw that last year when the OL wasn't there. We saw in 2016 when the OL was. I acknowledged the OL improving will help, so that point was already agreed upon. Coleman will have the same inconsistency issues in San Fran. I'd be willing to bet he sniffs a 50/50 run/pass split on his touches because he's more air back than running back. In space, he's hard to stop. But it's hard to get a running back in space by handing him the ball. And when he's handed the ball, his flaws are magnified. 

I’m not arguing hypotheticals at all. It’s the truth. All of what you wanted isn’t a part of his game and likely never will be if he isn’t coached to be better. Some guys are naturals. The other guys need to be coached. If you expected him to just magically gain those skills  on his own then you were fooling yourself all along. Clearly you expected him to be a player that he wasn’t. It’s just like those of us who bash Trufant because he can’t catch a cold. Like I said, had the coaching staff stressed anything other than using guys to their strengths as their primary approach then I’d agree with you. Given “coach speak” vs what you personally expected, I have to disagree with your take. 

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1 hour ago, ya_boi_j said:

Here's my thing though, was he ever tasked to improve or was the decision always to try to use his strengths alone?? That's a question that can't be answered here.

Strictly judging what Quinn and the 2 OC's said during their time, they use players to their strength and try their best to put them in a position to succeed. We've never heard them say Coleman was working on any one aspect of his game that needed to be improved vs what we've heard the staff say other players were working on specific things. So the only thing I can guess is Coleman had one responsibility outside of blocking sometimes and that was get the rock and run as fast as you can. That's pretty much how he came into the league. He had no reason to have vision or be shifty because of the crap level of competition he mostly faced.

An NFL player shouldnt have to be asked to improve on something. He should know what his weak spots are and work on them. He is getting paid a ridiculous amount of cash to run a football. He should take it very seriously. 

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6 minutes ago, LouDog said:

An NFL player shouldnt have to be asked to improve on something. He should know what his weak spots are and work on them. He is getting paid a ridiculous amount of cash to run a football. He should take it very seriously. 

An nfl player shouldn’t be asked to lose unnecessary weight that he put on either but it happens yearly. There’s a reason you have positional coaches. Their job is to point out and help the players improve on aspects of their game they feel need to be improved. It’s hard for a player to know what his weaknesses are when the only thing he’s used to is strictly sprinting past defenders. Every position is different. Like I said earlier, Coleman’s lack of wasn’t the issue. The expectations you guys had was the issue. 

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59 minutes ago, vel said:

You're arguing some hypothetical point. The fact is, his vision, agility, and physicality didn't improve in four years. Whether they told him to work on it or not is irrelevant and a different argument altogether. 

He did exactly what I thought he would: be a boom or bust RB with very high highs and more head scratching lows. Those backs are heavily dependent upon ideal conditions to produce at any level of consistency. We saw that last year when the OL wasn't there. We saw in 2016 when the OL was. I acknowledged the OL improving will help, so that point was already agreed upon. Coleman will have the same inconsistency issues in San Fran. I'd be willing to bet he sniffs a 50/50 run/pass split on his touches because he's more air back than running back. In space, he's hard to stop. But it's hard to get a running back in space by handing him the ball. And when he's handed the ball, his flaws are magnified. 

You’re on point.

No excuses for last year, Coleman was THE guy and didn’t produce at #1 level. His best role is at change-of-pace RB.

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