FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn made the message loud and clear back in October when he expressed a desire for "high 20s" in rushing attempts per game.
Now isn't the time to deviate from that weekly goal. If anything, the Falcons need to make sure they establish some semblance of a running game despite facing, statistically, the top rushing defense in the league.
Saturday's NFC divisional playoff matchup between the sixth-seeded Falcons and top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles may well come down to which team enjoys more success running the football. The Falcons have a talented tandem in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but the Eagles' combination of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount isn't too shabby, either.
Prior to the season, Quinn spoke repeatedly about not knowing what his team truly learned from the Super Bowl implosion until it was faced with such pivotal moments again. Well, one would figure a do-or-die playoff matchup on the road would qualify as one of those moments when the Falcons need to play smart and balanced offensive football.
The formula certainly worked in last week's 26-13 wild-card victory over the Los Angeles Rams, in which the Falcons ran the ball 39 times for 124 yards and a score. They stuck with the run despite not enjoying that much success in the first half (53 yards on 16 rushes, with the TD). The offensive line held up well against a rather intimidating Rams defensive line, led by Aaron Donald. And the run emphasis was the primary reason why the Falcons controlled the clock, holding the ball more than 15 minutes longer than the Rams.
"I think the biggest thing from this game, to me, I thought we knew going in that that was going to be a factor, to run it," Quinn said. "I thought it was a good adjustment by Sark [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] as far as the game plan goes, to make sure we weren’t going to get into a drop-back game. Their rushers could jump off the ball and get going. So we had to make sure that part could really come to life. So for me, that part I was pumped about, to make sure it was going.
"Over the last couple weeks, we haven’t got maybe the big, explosive plays from Carolina and [the Los Angeles] game in the run game. I would say it was a factor in the wins because they stuck with it. They grinded it through to make sure that we could own the ball. I think that is probably a big difference in this year, where however we have to play to win, we’re equipped to do that. With that being a close game, low-scoring, we’re equipped to do that. And if it means where we have to win in a high-scoring game, maybe like out in Seattle, we’re equipped to do that."
The Eagles allowed just 79.2 rushing yards per game this season and just 3.76 per play. In contrast, the Falcons averaged 115.4 rushing yards per game and 4.3 per play. In the games in which the Falcons rushed for 124 or more yards, including the playoffs, they went 8-1.
"You always want to run the ball, take a lot of time off the clock," Freeman said. "If you have the ball, control the game. ... I just feel like we need to do what we do, run or pass. I feel like we need to stay balanced."