Todd Gurley is the new face of Atlanta’s run game, but is he really going to be any better than Devonta Freeman was last season? Freeman was the feature back in the Falcons system last year totaling only 656 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Plus, the Falcons run game ranked 30th league wide, only better than the Dolphins and the Jets ground games. Yet, with Todd Gurley in the backfield, can Dirk Koetter find a way to establish a solid rushing attack?
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For starters, why is the ground game so important? Last season, the Falcons ranked 3rd in passing yards and 5th in total yards, so what’s the issue? As Dirk Koetter has pointed out, the Falcons explosive plays came off play action last year, meaning that as the running game gets better, the play action passing game will open up for Matt Ryan.
Yet, the Falcons don’t just want to get a better running game to open up the passing game. Dirk Koetter and the Falcons offense want to establish a rushing attack in order to create more offensive variability. If Atlanta can build a legitimate running game, not only will it add another component to their high powered offense, but defenses will have more trouble stopping the Falcons offense.
With the need for a rushing attack established, why is Todd Gurley a great fit in Atlanta to juice the ground game? Firstly, Gurley, when healthy, is one of the most dominant and dynamic running backs in the NFL. Last year was nowhere near his finest season, yet he still managed 857 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. In 2017 and 2018, Gurley totaled over 2500 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns.
Plus, Gurley can do some damage as a pass catcher. In 2019, he only had 207 receiving yards on 31 catches, but in 2017 and 2018, he amassed over 1300 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns on 123 receptions. If he can revert back to his 2017 or 2018 self, he could end up igniting the Falcons offense as a whole.
However, Gurley does come with an injury concern. Rumor has it that Gurley has arthritis in his knees which may be the reason that Gurley’s production dropped in 2019. Yet, the Falcons will assess his injury history and his current health to see how he can be utilized. Maybe 20 touches a game is out of the question for Gurley, but maybe 15-17 touches is a number that the Falcons are comfortable with. Thus, don’t be surprised to see Gurley on some type of load management, which could end up paving the way for guys like Ito Smith and Brian Hill to take a larger role in the Falcons run game.
At the end of the day, Gurley is a great scheme fit in Atlanta, which may be an important component to Gurley’s success as a Falcon. In Los Angeles, Gurley was a part of an offense that liked to run an outside zone run scheme, which is something that Dan Quinn, Dirk Koetter, and Alex Mack, the Falcons center, have talked about the Falcons offense wanting to implement this offseason to get the run game going. To use an outside zone run scheme, you need an athletic offensive line which is something that the Falcons have. Therefore, Gurley’s familiarity with Atlanta’s running scheme could prove to be a valuable catalyst for Gurley’s success in Atlanta.
All in all, Todd Gurley is a touchdown machine who can add an extra dimension as a target in the passing game. Gurley’s knowledge of how the Falcons want to run the football certainly has to help him produce next season. If Gurley can stay on the field next year and the Falcons offensive line can open running lanes for Gurley to work with, expect for the Falcons running game to take a step forward in 2020. Don’t expect them to instantly be a top ten run team in 2020, but don’t be surprised to see them improve into the range of the twentieth best rushing attack next season.