posted 8 years ago
Quick: Who led the league in rushing in three of the last four seasons? Atlanta. Surprised? Don't be. Though much of the production came from a quarterback with elite running ability, the Falcons have had a strong ground attack for years now. Last season was the one year it slipped, but now, despite some big changes, Atlanta is back among the NFL leaders in rushing.
Gone, obviously, is the quarterback who made the big runs, as is the zone blocking scheme. Instead, Atlanta now calls inside zone, outside zone and power O runs that emphasize strength and size more than agility. In a typical zone blocking scheme (like Denver's), the linemen block an area and the back reads the line to find the hole. Here, the linemen go out and initiate movement into defenders.
It's a scheme that fits this much-improved line. Many criticized the Falcons for reaching on Sam Baker on draft day, but he has been a fantastic fit at left tackle, a position that was a turnstile last season. Right guard Harvey Dahl is the other new starter up front, and though he doesn't have Baker's pedigree, he has fit in very well. These two have strengthened what were the weakest spots on last year's line.
Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey loves to build his running attack around a big, powerful back. He did it in Pittsburgh with Jerome Bettis, and he's doing it in Atlanta with Michael Turner. Turner has great size (5-foot-10, 244 pounds), and though he doesn't have the overpowering strength and pure bulk of Bettis, he's a very strong runner and has more speed than Bettis. For such a big runner, Turner's long speed is amazing, and he has translated that into numerous long runs this season. He is an excellent fit within the design of Mularkey's offense.
Add Jerious Norwood to the mix and it's easy to see why this rushing attack has been so productive. Norwood is the ultimate change-of-pace complement to the pounding Turner. He has excellent vision and better speed. He is a quick-twitch athlete who makes preparing for Atlanta's rushing attack far more difficult. Norwood has averaged at least six yards per carry in each of his three NFL seasons and currently is reeling off a ridiculous 6.6 yards per rush.