Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 06, 2018 at 1:12 am.

Weak running game remains issue for Falcons

Three months ago, the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers had all the makings of a contest that might decide the top seeds for the postseason.

Instead the two teams are limping toward the finish line. Atlanta (4-8) brings a four-game losing streak into Lambeau Field. Green Bay (4-7-1) will have a new (interim) head coach (Joe Philbin) after Mike McCarthy was unceremoniously dumped following last week’s loss to the Cardinals.

One of the biggest issues for Atlanta, the sad state of the running game, was addressed this week by the Falcons. The club needs to have a balanced attack to relieve the pressure felt by quarterback Matt Ryan.

Atlanta ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards and 31st in rushing attempts. That’s hardly the sort of balance that head coach Dan Quinn has been seeking.

“Clearly on the last four games is where I felt like we hit a wall,” Quinn said.

Since the injury to Pro-Bowl tailback Devonta Freeman, the onus of the running game has fallen on the shoulders of Tevin Coleman and rookie Ito Smith. It has been a hit-and-miss proposition, with more misses than hits.

Coleman had 107 yards rushing the second game against the Panthers. But he has struggled during the four-game losing streak, particularly the last two weeks when he rushed eight times for 6 yards against the Saints and six times for 8 yards against the Ravens.

Smith had a season-high 60 yards against the Redskins, but his crash has mirrored the frustration of Coleman over the last four games. He has totaled 21 carries for 43 yards during the swoon.

“We’ve just got to keep coming out and working, working hard, and getting the right looks,” Coleman said.

Coleman refused to blame the offensive line – which started two different guards last week – or the play-calling of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

“We’ve just got to keep working hard,” Coleman said. “We can’t give up just because we’re going bad.”

Ryan said the running game has to be viewed as a big picture and must be diagnosed in the context of the opposition.

“The run game, you have to take what you do well and it has to fit against who you’re going against,” Ryan said. “I think our staff is always self-scouting and taking a look at what have we had success with in the past and how does that fit with who we’re going against this week.”

Quinn has spent time looking at the failures of the last month and trying to decide the future direction.

“So, we have a big body of work to look at and we like some of them or we don’t,” Quinn said. “That’s how we started the approach this week in the run game and we’re going to keep digging hard, because of how important it is to us and the team.”

Coleman said he was not concerned about his offseason status as a free agent.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I’m thinking about working hard.”

SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 15-14. Falcons won the last meeting 34-23 in 2017 in Atlanta. Packers won the last game in Green Bay, 43-37 in 2014.