Falcons, Saints thrive on play action

I’ve always said running back Michael Turner is the key to Atlanta’s offense.

I think the Atlanta Falcons still were trying to figure out exactly what they wanted to be offensively early in the season. They were trying to work in rookie receiver Julio Jones and they might have forced some things that weren’t there.

But the Falcons found more balance – and not coincidentally – more success in their offense of late. The passing game is working better, especially downfield. But Turner is a major part of the reason for that because defenses have to devote so much attention to his running.

That’s backed up by some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 2 in the NFL with a 72.2 percent completion rate on play-action fakes. Ryan has completed 57 of 79 attempts for 681 yards with seven touchdowns, one interception and he’s only been sacked once.

The only quarterback with a higher completion percentage (75.6) is Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he’s only thrown for 286 yards and no touchdowns off play-action.

The New Orleans Saints also are very good with play action. They should be because they’ve used it far more than any team in the NFL. Drew Brees has attempted 122 passes off play action and completed 86 of them (70.5 percent) for 970 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

Carolina’s Cam Newton ranks No. 19 in play-action completion percentage (60.9). He’s completed 53 of 87 attempts for 706 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is the only NFC South quarterback whose completion percentage off play action is worse than his overall completion percentage. He’s No. 25 in the league at 57.7 percent. Freeman has completed 41 of 71 attempts for 548 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.