- Matt Winkeljohn
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Sunday was a tough day at the office for the Falcons’ running game, and if they’re going to right the ship after losing for of their past five games they’re going to have to consistent do better than rush 18 times for 53 yards as in a 20-17 loss to the Panthers.
Atlanta (4-4) rushed the ball just four times in the second half in part because they only ran six offensive plays in the third quarter and they were trying to rally from a 20-10 deficit in the fourth and therefore passed much more frequently.
The problems were not limited to short-yardage situations, but that was the most glaring deficiency against Carolina, like in the second quarter on second-and-2, third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 they ran Tevin Coleman up the middle for 1, Coleman up the middle for no gain and Devonta Freeman off right guard for no gain.
“Obviously we were looking to see if there was some sort of technique or breakdown that doesn’t allow you to get the distance that you want, so on both those runs – third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 – both those were issues where we got beaten by a player or a technique,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Monday.
Freeman rushed 11 times for 46 yards, including a 20-yarder, and Coleman rushed five times for five yards.
Much credit goes to Carolina’s front seven. The Panthers are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (274.1) and No. 2 in rushing defense (78.4) with stout personnel including tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei and linebackers Luke Keuchly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Lawson.
The Falcons have slipped to No. 13 in rushing (114.5) although they’re still No. 4 in average rush (4.6) even as they’re No. 20 in attempts per game (24.8).
The Panthers also had some surprises for the Falcons in new looks.
“There definitely was a few of those, and give them credit in that regard because I did think that their guys played really aggressive, downhill with eight-man fronts,” Quinn said. “Upfront, I thought they played aggressive and some of the fronts were different than we had seen from them.”
Freeman wasn’t very talkative after the game.
“I guess we didn’t click,” he said when asked what happened. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, figure out what we need to do to win, and win.”
Quinn said he was happy with the pass protection, as the Panthers -- who entered the game second in the NFL with 27 sacks and second with an 11.07 percent sack rate per attempt -- had just two.
“And I think one was outside the pocket when Matt if he had another play on second-and-1 would throw that one away, so from a protection standpoint I thought that part of the game really came . . . against good rushers with a good blitz package,” Quinn said. “I really trust our group. We’ve been good in the run game and yesterday it wasn’t the production that we would like.”