The Falcons’ 9-1 record doesn’t mask the fact they need to improve in the basic building blocks of a team — running the ball and run defense.
While they’ve generally been able to pass their way out of trouble (though Matt Ryan passed them into trouble last week), their run defense needs to get fixed quickly.
With Bucs rookie Doug Martin (1,000 rushing yards in 10 games) on deck, they have an immediate issue.
“This running team that we’re getting ready to face is doing a great job,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “The rookie running back has had some really explosive games. It will be a challenge for us.”
Even against teams without a front-line back, the Falcons have had issues. Cardinals backup-to-the-backup LaRod Stephens-Howling had runs of 40 and 52 yards. While the 35 yards on the other 20 carries doesn’t look so hot, Martin is more of a down-to-down threat.
“It’s not where we want it to be,” Smith said. “It’s got to be improved. But we are making progress. Some guys made some nice plays. The two explosive runs were definitely something that we don’t want to be dealing with.”
Part of the problem stems from the absence of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who is getting closer to a return after missing three games with an ankle issue. That’s created alignment issues, with other players moving around to cover for him, and getting out of place. When he returns, Akeem Dent will go back to the middle in the base defense, which should stabilize things.
“Spoon is a run-and-hit linebacker,” Smith said. “Sean is one of our best football players, not only on the defensive side, but on our football team. We’ve missed him and we are looking forward to getting him back.”
If he can get back against the Bucs, it will be just in time.