To say that the Falcons struggled to run the football last year would be an understatement.
More times than not, Falcons fans saw a slower Michael Turner than they're used to seeing– a Turner who would just get back to the line of scrimmage or lose yardage on multiple plays per game.
We saw an offensive line that, while very successful in the passing game, couldn't open a hole for Turner to rush through on a consistent basis.
This led to the Falcons ranking among the worst rushing offenses in the NFL last season. The Dirty Birds only averaged a paltry 87.3 rushing yards per game. Only Jacksonville, Dallas and Arizona did a poorer job of rushing the football than Atlanta last season.
One can argue that running the ball simply isn't the Falcons game anymore, but you can't argue how a lack of a running threat didn't hurt them at crucial points last season. Goal line stands where Turner couldn't punch the ball in, and other failures during short yardage situations, led to the Falcons being too one dimensional, despite a magnificent passing game. If your run offense is that bad, it allows the defense to adjust to your passing game because there's no real threat with the run. The Seahawks and the 49ers were able to adjust against the Falcons in the playoffs because of this ineptitude.
Some fans called out the aging Turner, while some called out the O-line. Something rarely talked about was the lack of a quality fullback.
There were too many times last season when FB Mike Cox simply couldn't get that push or hold a block long enough to open up holes for Turner. The running game's lack of production isn't entirely on him in any respect, but there's a lot of room for improvement in the fullback position.
After being cut by the Falcons for the second time, Cox is no longer on the squad. Instead, the Falcons have three unproven players trying out for the FB position this year: Patrick DiMarco, Devonte Campbell, and Bradie Ewing.
We will discuss these three players coming up in our ongoing position battles segments. Here's the short version: among the three of them only one has played in as many as five NFL games, one is a rookie and the other is coming off ACL surgery last season, having never played a down in the NFL.
Fullback is a question mark until one of those players proves he can play the position at this level. One fullback who is currently a free agent who could really help the Falcons running game is Vonta Leach.
A three-time pro bowler, Leach has played an integral role with Baltimore, consistently opening up running lanes for Ray Rice to burst through. He deserves some credit, helping Rice to become one of the finest running backs in the NFL. He's much more than just a blocking fullback, as he can also run the ball and has good hands. He rushed for 32 yards on only nine attempts, resulting in a 3.6 yards per carry average. He also caught 21 catches on 24 targets for 143 yards last season.
These may not be eye popping stats but, for a fullback, these are very good numbers. It makes Leach more versatile, showing that along with handling a FB's responsibilities very well, he has the ability to contribute during those rare moments when he gets his hands on the ball.
The Falcons have shown no interest in Leach and, given the fact that there are currently three fullbacks on the roster, they probably won't try to contact him. If he would come down on his high asking price (the reason Baltimore let him go), there is little doubt he could help this Falcons team in an area where they so mightily struggled.
With Turner out, the rushing attack should improve with Stephen Jackson getting the hand offs this year. But Jackson needs a fullback who can open those initial running lanes for him to scamper to another 1,000 yard season. But with so little experience at the FB position and the offensive line as a whole, the Falcons running game will need a lot of work come training camp.
Signing Leach would immediately clear the Falcons of any FB deficiencies, and would be a solid improvement in both the running and pass protection schemes. The Falcons aerial assault would become even more deadly, due to an improved running game, as a result of this potential signing.
What do you think about Leach? Could he be the right answer at FB? Or should the Falcons let the inexperienced but cheaper options have at it during training camp? Let us know in the comments section.
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