ATLANTA -- Ito Smith has a goal that has nothing to do with continuing his current three-game touchdown streak.
The Atlanta Falcons rookie running back knows the offense hasn't played up to its full potential yet, mainly because the running game has been inconsistent. Yes, there have been flashes from current starter Tevin Coleman, who has the team's lone 100-yard rushing game, and Smith, who set a franchise rookie record with a rushing score in each of the past three games.
But Smith says there is much more to accomplish.
"I think we can be way better, man," Smith said. "I want us to get 200 yards rushing. We've got to get that ground game going."
The last time the Falcons rushed for a combined 200 yards in a game was when they went for 201 in a Week 15 win against the Buccaneers last season. And if they're going to duplicate the feat anytime soon, they'll have to do it without two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman.
The Falcons (2-4) placed Freeman on injured reserve on Tuesday as he faces groin surgery. He could return from IR for the Falcons' Dec. 23 game at Carolina, but it might be pointless if the Falcons aren't in the playoff race.
Thus, the burden falls on Coleman and Smith to carry the load out of the backfield, with Brian Hill as the third running back. The Falcons, who just broke a three-game losing streak with a Week 6 win against Tampa Bay, rank 29th out of 32 teams in rushing with an average of 86 yards per game.
The Falcons will miss Freeman's great vision and ability to run routes like a receiver. However, Coleman can be a home run threat and showed last week just how good he could be at blitz pickup, while Smith has shown some versatility, too, just six games into his NFL career.
"I don't feel any pressure because you just have to keep doing what you're doing," Smith said. "Y'all haven't even seen the surface yet out of the running backs or out of the whole offense. We haven't played a great game yet."
Smith, a fourth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi, has exceeded expectations in the eyes of many. Some experts projected him to be a late-round pick or even an undrafted free-agent pickup. Instead, Smith leads all running backs with a touchdown on every 10.67 rushes. Against Cincinnati, he had a 7-yard run off power where he bounced outside and made the defender miss. In Pittsburgh, he scored a 2-yard touchdown off a zone read with the offensive line giving a good push. Then last week against the Bucs, Smith scored on a 14-yard run off a zone read when he made a backdoor cut and followed two blocks from tight end Logan Paulsen to the end zone.
"It's a blessing, man," Smith said. "It goes to show that hard work pays off. I've been working hard all my life, and I'm reaping the benefits of it. I'm just blessed, man."
The coaches appear confident Smith can do the job moving forward, whether it means being a threat in the red zone or spelling Coleman for a play or two.
"I knew he was a good open-field runner," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Smith. "I knew he could really cut. Probably what I didn't know was his balance. ... All good running backs have it, but some guys have it where it's laterally, and they can try to change direction and break somebody off. And he has that. As he's on his way down to the ground, the play's not over, and I like that about him."
It appears the Falcons might see a lot more of that from Smith in the weeks to come.