Falcons’ problems are up front and in front office

mlough@macon.comNovember 27, 2013 

Back in the spring, many people were jazzed about Steven Jackson going to the Atlanta Falcons.

Many people were increasingly down on Michael Turner and thought Jackson was the answer.

Well, many people were, let’s say, fairly premature in dumping Turner and canonizing Jackson. And a faction existed that was far from enamored with the deal -- yes, our meetings were fairly small -- and not because of any infatuation with Turner or disapproval with Jackson.

The problem in Atlanta has been a digressing offensive line and decreased interest in a quality running game.

The latter, as we all know, starts and ends up front, for you can’t run or throw if you’re on your behind.

Throwing is a little easier when you run the ball well, and that’s what Atlanta did during the nice run that has come to a stunning and screeching halt.

The Falcons were balanced with power, although some of us thought they were a little tight and predictable. New-in-2012 offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would change that.

Atlanta decided to put everything on a nice quarterback and his pass-catching threats, which sort of worked with a team of 9-7 quality going 13-3 in 2012, thanks to yet another slew of comebacks over mediocre teams and a few impressive wins.

There was, yes, finally a playoff victory followed by the requisite playoff loss and then the dumping of Turner and coveting of Jackson without discussing, let alone addressing, the real issues.

In March, Grantland.com -- sports for the non-Twitter mind -- had some wrapups of free-agent signings, and the review of the Jackson-Falcons engagement mixed interesting facts with analysis:

“Jackson was once a great player on a competitive Rams team before sticking with them through years of mediocrity, but in the process, he ran a lot of balls into the middle of the pile for two yards,” the Grantland analysis stated. “Jackson already has 2,395 carries underneath his belt as a pro running back, and he doesn’t have a single run for 50 yards or more in three seasons.

“He’s also not much of a goal-line back, having scored double-digit rushing touchdowns just once in his pro career. Fans might look at this deal and envision the Jackson from 2005 and 2006 livening up the Atlanta running game, but it’s entirely possible that the Falcons could be taking hold of a player who’s already peaked, one who looks more like Michael Turner than Falcons fans dare to imagine.”

There’s logic in there. One reason folks liked Turner was he didn’t take an abundance of hits early in his career since he didn’t really start until arriving in Atlanta. Jackson has been a quality, versatile back getting hammered on increasingly bad offenses.

What’s left in tank for both is indeed debatable, and either one’s impact is or would have been lessened by the botching of roster management and the game plan.

It’s a mess, starting with the front office and trickling down to the coaches’ offices, and the process began while things were going well.

Remember, things were always going pretty well with Turner, who had nothing but a positive impact in the Falcons becoming an actual above-.500 NFL organization.

He averaged below four yards a carry once, in 2012, and had only one fewer touchdown on 79 fewer carries. He scores more than Jackson, and their gains of 40 or more yards are even. Stats are more even than expected.

But lacking a balanced offense, respectable and consistent offensive line and the return of the fullback to the conversation, neither back would be of the desired impact.

Atlanta is 31st in the NFL in rushing, with fewer yards than 10 players and fewer rushes than three. The Falcons average the same number of carries a game (18.8) this season as Turner did through five seasons.

One is asked why nobody has picked up Turner.

Hey, people in charge make fascinating decisions on a minute-by-minute basis. Bobby Petrino keeps getting hired. Somebody just up the road paid Dan Uggla a boatload of money to stay around. Lane Kiffin keeps getting hired (although that may stop for awhile). Nobody’s accused the NCAA home office of abundant intellect.

Nevertheless, nobody would have expected this season turn out as it has, between injuries, subpar performances and the game plan. But a step back was coming, regardless of who lined up behind the nice quarterback with pass-catching threats, because of the group in front of that nice quarterback and what his boss wanted to do.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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