|Falcons RB Michael Turner hasn't been featured nearly enough in the Atlanta offense. (US Presswire)|
Falcons coach Mike Smith acknowledged it.
Atlanta running back Michael Turner is acutely aware of it.
But at some point, the Falcons are going to need to be able to run the football. Turner had 33 yards on 13 carries on Sunday after K Matt Bryant and CB Asante Samuel bailed out the Falcons after yet another close victory.
The issue's been glazed over since the Falcons (6-0) are the league's lone unbeaten. But the veteran Turner is beginning to sound dissatisfied with the disproportionate play calling by first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Falcons are passing on 63 percent of their offensive plays, as opposed to 56 percent last season, when Turner rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I'm not sure why it's going like this,” said Turner, who's averaged under 60 yards per game this year. “It's great to be 6-0 and everything. But we can't just assume we're going to get an interception or a last-minute field goal every time. At some point, we're going to have the run the ball.”
The Falcons were just 2 for 9 on third-down conversions on Sunday. On four instances of third-and-three or less, the Falcons rushed it twice, failing to convert on both. But Turner wasn't used on either attempt.
Backup RB Jacquizz Rodgers lost two yards on a third-and-1 attempt in the first quarter, forcing an early punt. Later in the game following a strip sack by DE Jonathan Abraham, the Falcons handed the ball to FB Jason Snelling from third-and-goal from the one-foot line and he lost a yard on a run behind LT Sam Baker. Snelling has six rushing attempts on the season.
So have the Falcons lost confidence in Turner, or is there an issue with the offensive line?
Turner, 30, has looked slow this season but Rodgers is by no means a third-down running back and Snelling should be used predominantly in blocking situations. For their part, the OL has been much better in pass protection than it has at holding blocks and creating gaps on rushing attempts. The play-calling near the goal line has been extremely unimaginative, too.
All three issues have been factors in the menial running game.
Smith said he wanted a balanced offense this preseason but that a pass-first league has cultivated the current state of the Falcons. Smith added that incorporating an effective running game into the Falcons offense is one of his top priorities in the team's off week.
“We didn't run the ball as well as needed to [on Sunday]. I think there's been times that we've done it very well during the season and I think that's something that we're gonna be looking very hard at is that we've gotta be more efficient running the football,” Smith said.
The bottom line is that on the surface, the Falcons haven't had to address the run game because of how good Matt Ryan and his receivers have been. But with a bye week to self-scout, fixing the running game needs to be a priority or teams will continue to sit back in pass-coverage, waiting for Ryan to make a mistake. The potential to run the football is as important as the actual physical act of rushing it.
They'll need to correct the issue if the team wants to reach its aspirations.
“We're looking at something beyond just winning right now. We're trying to be a special team and special teams don't play like that,” Turner said.
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer and @CBSFalcons.