Falcons running back Tevin Coleman addresses teammate Devonta Freeman missing playing time following surgery. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Jump-starting the Falcons’ run attack received extra attention 

Falcons are averaging 86 yards per game, 29th in NFL

The Falcons’ offense is based on running the ball, but they are averaging only 86 yards per game, which ranks 29th in NFL, and running back Devonta Freeman is out of the foreseeable – at least eight games – future. 

“We took it as a chance to self-scout ourselves,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Thursday. “Really devote a day to things that really need our attention.”

The Falcons need their outside-zone running scheme to start clicking. 

“Finding space in the run game was a big part of that,” Quinn said. “Which looks would provide us with that opportunity best. How do we feature players in the best roles so that they can do that.”

The Falcons are not changing the scheme, which failed them on a key third-and-2 play against the Bucs with a chance to wrap up the game. The Bucs got great penetration and stopped running back Tevin Coleman for no gain. 

“We are ready to go out and attack it again,” Quinn said. “We like the plan that we are putting in place to ensure that we stay committed and have our (opportunities) to (run the ball.) We felt it was more scheme related and quite honestly some technique things we can do better to get our run game to the standard that we (want.)”

After breaking loose for 107 yards in a win over Carolina on Sept. 16, Coleman has been stymied. He was held to 33, 51, 15 and 35 yards in the four subsequent games. Rookie Ito Smith also has been held in check, but has a rushing touchdown in each of the past three games. 

“We just have to continue running the ball and work hard at that,” Coleman said. “We definitely need to stay with the run to open up the passing against all defensive fronts.”

With Freeman injured and recovering from core/sports-hernia surgery, Coleman and Smith know for certain they have to carry the rushing load. Running back Brian Hill has been inactive for the past two games. 

“It’s heartbreaking to see my guy go down,” Coleman said. “We just have got to continue to go out there and keep fighting.”

While Smith is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, he’s proved to be elusive inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“Ito is stepping up,” Coleman said. “He’s looking real good and he’s taking another step.”

Smith, a fourth-round pick from Southern Mississippi, has 32 carries for 102 yards. He’s also caught 10 passes for 66 yards. 

“I’m blessed,” Smith said. “That’s just one of the things that God gave me. I have to use my moves.”

Coleman and Smith have two different running styles.

“Coleman hits that hole, he’s going,” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “He’s getting up field. Ito, he’ll hit, but he’ll make something out of nothing. He’ll juke around a little bit. Tevin is more of guy who wants to use his speed.”

Over the past four games, Coleman has had just 15, 14, seven and 10 carries. 

“Not necessarily,” said Coleman when asked if he needed more touches to get into a rhythm. “I don’t think about (touches) like that. I just go out there and play my game. If we want to run the ball, cool. If we want to pass the ball, cool.”

Smith doesn’t know if he can carry more of the load at running back. 

“I’m just going out there and trying to be perfect in practice,” Smith said. “So, when you go out there for the game you can be fully confident.” 

Smith may have to provide more.

“I knew he was a good open-field runner,” Quinn said. “I knew he could really cut. Probably what I didn't know was his balance.

“There was a play where he was almost all the way down toward the ground, and he put his hand down. He just fights for the extra yards in that way. So, I would say the balance would be one of the things.”

Quinn also praised Smith’s ability to change directions.

While Coleman and Smith are ready to carry on, they are still concerned about Freeman. 

“It’s definitely a tough time for him,” Coleman said. “You just have to keep going and not give in to the negatives. I talk to him every day to make sure that he’s right, make sure that he’s good.” 

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