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Falcons demote Gurley, Ito Smith takes ‘lead dog’ duties - AJC

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Just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. 

by Jason Butt for the AJC 


With two games left to play this season, the Falcons have formally announced a new lead running back.

On Monday, Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said that Ito Smith will serve as the team’s top option at the position. While this is the first time this was revealed publicly, snap counts and distribution of touches have indicated that this has been the case for the past few weeks.

In Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith was on the field for 31 offensive snaps - nearly twice as many as Gurley (16), who started the game. Gurley carried the ball on the opening play from scrimmage for a loss of 1 yard and didn’t record another rush for the remainder of the game. He added two catches for 15 receiving yards.


Gurley, the NFL’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, hasn’t logged double-digit carries since the Falcons’ Week 9 win over Denver, when he ran the ball 19 times for 53 yards and a touchdown. After the bye, Gurley totaled eight carries for 26 yards in the Falcons’ first loss to the Saints, with the former UGA standout sitting the week after against the Raiders due to a knee injury. When Gurley returned in the Falcons’ second game against the Saints, his usage wasn’t the same.

“His role has changed,” Morris said. “His role had changed the one week due to injury when I made him the third-down back and the red zone back. And his role has evolved into that. Probably a little bit more than just some of the things he did when he was hurt that day. It’s definitely changed. Ito’s definitely our lead dog runner.”

Gurley was declared to be healthy two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Chargers. Although Smith saw 25 snaps to Gurley’s 19, Morris wasn’t ready to say a move in the pecking order had taken place then.

On Monday, Morris said that Gurley will continue to have a role in the offense, mentioning his ability as a pass protector and as a receiver out of the backfield. Morris said that Gurley’s knee issue, which began during the 2018 season with the Los Angeles Rams, did not contribute to his decrease in snaps and touches.

Morris said it had more to do with Smith’s performance of late.

Against the Raiders, Smith carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards and a touchdown. He had eight and 11 carries in games against the Saints and Chargers, respectively, and ran the ball six times for 24 yards against the Buccaneers.

Of the team’s running backs, Smith has the highest average yards per carry at 4.3. Gurley has averaged 3.5 yards per carry this season.

“Ito’s played so well,” Morris said. “When he’s gotten opportunities, he’s made yards. He’s made hay. He’s made some of the runs look a little bit better. He’s actually gone out there and had a little bit better production when it comes to running the football. So he’s been the runner the last couple of weeks. We put him in that role a little more and more as he’s been growing. (Against the Buccaneers), it was a clear cut and defined role for Todd and a clear cut and defined role for all of them. It’s all been talked about with them personally and we’ll move forward that way. Whatever it takes to get a win.”

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who hopped on a virtual conference call with reporters a little more than an hour after Morris’ news conference wrapped up, said he hasn’t yet had the chance to speak with Morris at length about this decision.

“With us being out of the office (Monday), I haven’t really had a chance to talk to Raheem very much,” Koetter said. “I’ll just let it stand at that.”

The Falcons haven’t been able to find much consistency when running the football this season. The Falcons rank 27th in the NFL with an average of 93.9 rushing yards per game. They rank last in rushing yards per carry at 3.7.

Koetter said the primary issue at play has been defensive fronts winning the point of attack.

“Mostly penetration,” Koetter said. “That’s throwing us off and has gotten us off course.”

In addition to Smith and Gurley, the Falcons still plan to use Brian Hill in the offensive game-plan. Hill has spent most of the year as Gurley’s top backup before Smith’s emergence.

The Falcons also have running back Qadree Ollison on the roster, although he’s been inactive for all but three games. Morris was asked if Ollison could potentially see some playing time in the final two games of the season.

“Qadree, it’s all based on his week of practice and how he looks, what role we can present for him and what role he can have going into the football game,” Morris said. “If he has a role in the football game, we can potentially get him up. If we can’t find a role for him, he can’t establish a role for himself, we won’t be able to get him up.”




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At this point you need to see what Ollison actually looks like in a game and not just practice. What can it hurt?  It’s not like having him involved will make our run game and pass blocking any worse.

Now you sound like Koetter. 

Actually we don't know if they suck. There's not enough of a sample size to make that determination.  😁😁😁

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1 minute ago, BirdGangATL said:

Wonder if any team will sign gurley in the off-season knowing that he’s washed.


Maybe as a goal-line or short yards back if Gurley accepts that he can't be that much more than that?


Otherwise, it's been a decent career that has been sadly cut short.

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I said this **** last season and again early this year.. it’s not even a hard ******* evaluation yet we’re making the change the second to last game of Koetter’s second season here

**** dirk koetter. There’s so many more difficult evaluations to undertake and this was one of the easiest and he can’t even get it right 

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