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Falchoholic: Are the Falcons serious about improving the ground game in 2020?


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Imagine life as Devonta Freeman right now. Sure, he gets to play in the NFL. And sure, he has truckloads of money to ... buy things. But if performance for performance’s sake means anything to Freeman, and I have a sneaking suspicion it does, then 2019 had to be a frustrating year. 

Freeman’s 2019 was, in a word, forgettable. While he is still the team’s best pass blocker and remains a true threat as a receiver (410 receiving yards, 59 receptions on 70 targets, and 4 receiving touchdowns), his performance on the ground (a career low 3.6 yards/carry and only 2 rushing touchdowns) was lackluster at best. Coming off two injury-plagued seasons, 2019 was supposed to be Freeman’s return to glory. It wasn’t. 

It’s fair to wonder whether Freeman’s best years are behind him. What’s more, his contract is the elephant in the room, and in the modern NFL, teams (and their fans) don’t love overpaying at running back. All this said, Freeman’s usage was downright criminal in 2019, and that has to count for something, right? 

Consider this: Freeman had 184 carries in 2019. 121 of those carries (65.8 percent) came on 1st down. 112 came on 1st and 10. He only ran the ball once on 4th down and 5 times on 3rd down. Put simply, if Freeman was in the backfield on 1st down, everyone in the stadium knew what was coming. He only ran the ball when it wasn’t 1st and 10 a combined 58 times. That’s abysmal, no matter how you look at it. 

The Falcons didn’t have a running back gain 100 yards on the ground all season. The last time the Falcons didn’t have a 100 yard rusher over an entire season? 2013, when, you guessed it, Dirk Koetter was the offensive coordinator. This is simply not his forte. It’s not what he does well. During his prior 3-year stint as the offensive coordinator (2012-2014), the Falcons ranked 29th, 32nd, and 24th in rushing yards. Does it shock anyone that the Falcons ranked 30th in rushing yards this season? 

Here’s what Dan Quinn had to say about the running game in 2019 (credit to Kelsey Conway for the quote): 

“We did not hit the mark we were hoping to accomplish in that spot, but at the end of it, that’s one of the things, when we say tweak it and work it to go, that identity, it has to come through,” Quinn said during his season-ending press conference. “The fact that it didn’t, I’m not happy about that, but I also know that it is going to be addressed as we’re moving forward.”

OK, Dan, that’s one way to put it. “t is going to be addressed.” I want to believe him; I really do. 

Whatever the problem is, they need to fix it. It doesn’t matter who occupies the backfield; if Koetter flatly refuses to innovate and field a run game that isn’t as predictable as a Dave Choate relapse, then we’re destined to get more of the same in 2020. We’re less than a week into the off-season, so Quinn and company deserve a little time to right the ship. But there needs to be a direct intervention. Short of that, nothing will change. 

So what’s the solution? Simply stated, Quinn needs to put Koetter on notice and have him lay out a plan that doesn’t include a categorical refusal to run the ball with more than 2 wide receivers on the field. Koetter must innovate, or again, nothing will change. It’s Quinn’s responsibility to facilitate that change, and it’s less than clear that he has the ability, means, or desire to get Koetter there. 

So will the Falcons make serious changes to their run game in 2020? I don’t know. I really don’t. So for now, 6 days into the off-season, the answer is simply “to be determined.”

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It wasn't all just the playcalling or the OL.  Freeman was not good in the facets that don't have anything to do with the OL blocking or the play design.


Freeman was 2.0 average yards after contact for 360 yards this season, and had a Broken Tackle rate of 8.2%, and a yards after contact rate of 54.9%.

Meaning he only broke tackles on 8.2% of tackle attempts on him, and he only got yards after contact on about 55% of the times he was touched by a defender.

And 2.0 average yards after contact is simply awful.


For some perspective, here's a few other guys in the league on those same stats:

Barkley was 3.2 average yards after contact for 835 yards in 2018, and 3.1 for 680 this season. BT rate 11.1%. YAC rate 67.8%.

Josh Jacobs was 3.0 average yards after contact for 717 this season. BT rate 17.4%. YAC rate 62.3%.

Zeke was 3.0 average yards after contact for 905 in 2018, and 2.9 for 786 this season. BT rate 10.6%. YAC rate 57.9%.

Nick Chubb was 4.3 average yards after contact for 829 in 2018, and 3.5 for 1053 this season. BT rate 13.8%. YAC rate 70.5%.

Leonard Fournette was 2.9 average yards after contact for 756 this season. BT rate 7.9%. YAC rate 65.6%.

Mark Ingram was 2.9 average yards after contact for 545 this season. BT rate 18.8%. YAC rate 53.5%.

Derrick Henry was 3.6 average yards after contact for 764 in 2018, and 3.2 for 967 this season. BT rate 15.8%. YAC rate 62.8%.


We have good reason to let Freeman go and try to find someone to replace him.

Brian Hill and Ito Smith were only a bit better than Freeman, but still well below the league averages in all these stats, too. So I hope we don't settle for just trying to turn one of them into our #1.

I just don't think Koetter is capable of scheming a good run game, but I do think a really good RB can do well in spite of Koetter.

I'm crossing my fingers for Etienne or Dobbins in the 2nd round.

Edited by Beef
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3 hours ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

Since Callahan isn’t in Flowery Branch and Morgan is, apparently fixing the run game isn’t a priority

This. If this wasn't just a game I would be protesting with signs saying Hey Hey Ho Ho Morgan's *** has GOT to go! Occupy the branch 2020

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When he actually got into space, which really only came on passes, he still showed Playmaking ability. It was super frustrating to see that predictable run call, every time. I used to beg the Tv screen to show me a play action or Screen on the first down, and it rarely if never happened. I was in favor of continuity but this run game ain’t gonna get it. 

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It’s pretty simple and not rocket science here ladies and gentlemen....DK is the main problem with the running game and why we hired him and plan to retain him will blow one’s mind. I’d just soon have MM as OC, at least  he can get a running game going. I hope it works out but I have little faith

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Listen, Im not a Free hater...he was THE man in 2016...he was decisive, always leaning forward, and when he was in the 2nd level he was hard to touch with a combination of sick jukes and forward movement.

He doesnt have that same explosiveness now...probably because of injuries and less so time. 

This year was a tell.

He is still a very good receiving back no doubt, his hands havent left him, and he still has something in the tank....but you CANT pay this guy at this stage the kind of money is contract is demanding.

Maybe a little above vet minimum at this point.

Hill, Ito when healthy had more pop in the run game.

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