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Is Steven Jackson holding the Falcons' offense back?

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Big, bruising running backs are great in the right kind of offense, but you can't force a square peg into a round hole. Stephen White tackles the trouble with plodders and a few more random notes from Week 5.

Kevin C. Cox

I have always been a fan of the "big" running backs in the NFL. As a former defensive player, one thing I can attest to is nobody likes to tackle those big guys for four quarters if they're getting up a full head of steam and running north and south. Teams pound that guy at a defense all game, and by the end there might be a few guys who start making what we like to call "business decisions" and stop trying to tackle him. That is taking a team's will right on the field.

Using a big back like that usually only works if you have a certain type of offense. If a team is going to line up with a tight end and fullback and run power O and ISO all day, then a big back is just what the doctor ordered. If a team is trying to have a fast-paced, high-power offense, having a big back might be a detriment. There are a few big cats who can be a factor in the passing game and are nimble enough to run the zone type plays, but those dudes don't grow on trees. Those that can do both have a short shelf life because once they get older, their weight catches up to their speed and they get a little slower. All they're good for is downhill runs through big holes. Otherwise they're a tackle-for-loss waiting to happen.

I'm afraid the Atlanta Falcons are at that point with Steven Jackson.

I don't feel good saying that. I have always been a fan of Jackson's from when he was pretty much the only thing the St. Louis Rams had on offense and he was wrecking shop. I was also a big fan of the move by the Falcons to bring him in to replace Michael Turner, another big back who faded quickly. Atlanta signed Jackson to replace Turner, but the experiment hasn't really worked. Jackson was banged up most of last season and is now looking a full step slower than he used to. Every time I watch that team, I get the impression that he's holding the Falcons back.

The Falcons have a bunch of talent at wide receiver with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. They also have three scat type running backs behind Jackson in Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and rookie Devonta Freeman. Those guys are all short and quick, but they also all have sturdy builds to take big hits and even hand out some big hits of their own.

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Photo credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With Matt Ryan running the show, the Falcons could really put opposing defenses under pressure if they could run a hurry-up shotgun offense. They use hurry-up at times every game, and it almost always works. However, I don't think they have ever done it for a whole game. That's probably because with them continuing to start Jackson at running back it would be hard to do with him in there.

It also seems like they go out of their way to make sure he gets a few carries a game even if it disrupts their flow on offense. I'm not saying he can't still be productive; I am sure he can. He has made some pretty good runs so far this year, and he is averaging slightly less than 4 yards a carry. The question is at what expense?

I would much rather see Rodgers, Smith or Freeman in there full-time. The Falcons can run the ball or pass it without giving away what they are trying to do. Those backs have home run ability, especially Smith who seems to score a long touchdown every week. Defenses have a hard enough time trying to deal with the Falcons' wideouts in the passing game; having to pay attention to the running backs might drive them completely nuts. It would also allow an offensive line that is, let's face it, pretty damn soft to do more position blocks on running plays rather than trying to get push on defensive linemen to make room for Jackson.

They could still use Jackson in short yardage situations to get some value out of him, but I just don't see how they can justify continuing to start him. It's like driving a sports car with the emergency brake on. Once they make this move -- and they'll have to at some point -- the Georgia Dome better stock up on light bulbs for their scoreboard. Until then, the Falcons will continue to kind of muddle along, never being as formidable on offense as they should be.

★★★

Random notes from Week 5

There weren't many major developments in Week 5, but here are a few random things I saw watching games.

  • In the Houston/Dallas game with 13:38 left in the second quarter and the Cowboys facing third-and-5, the Texans decided to break out the gimmick disguise coverage on defense. Before the snap they lined up with six men on the line of scrimmage to show a blitz. Then, they decided to drop four of those guys leaving only two to pass rushers. Brilliant!

    Except the four guys who dropped out appeared to be confused about where they were supposed to go and were bunched up together in the middle of the field. That left running back DeMarco Murray all alone on his check-down route which he turned into a 10-yard gain.

  • Did you know that if you hit a punt returner before the ball gets to them the play isn't over? I'll be honest and say I had no clue. I just assumed that the official would blow the play dead after something like that. Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown caught that BLAAAAMMMMM from Chicago Bears cornerback Teddy Williams as Brown was trying to field a punt in the first quarter of their game.

    Had that been me, I probably would have just laid there for awhile until they brought the #amberlamps on the field to get me, my day would have been over, jack! I was very impressed with the fact that Brown not only hopped right up to complain about the hit, but also had the presence of mind to pick it up and run damn near 80 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. For a minute, I thought they were cheating, but then I thought about it and it all made sense. Hell, a lot of guys get blasted like that and the referee won't even throw the flag. At least Brown got something out of the deal this time.

  • I wasn't surprised that Rams head coach Jeff Fisher named Austin Davis his starting quarterback. Davis really impressed me in the Rams' win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I wouldn't say he was awesome or anything, but he showed poise, made good decisions and some good throws in that game. In the first quarter against the Eagles, I also got to see his athleticism.

    With Eagles defensive end
    Fletcher Cox bearing down on him after bursting through the middle of the Rams offensive line, Davis decided to take off. With a nice burst up the field, Davis quickly gained 11 yards and pulled off a perfectly executed slide to keep himself out of harms way.

    The only problem is that it was third-and-12.

  • I figured with Andrew Luck's propensity for throwing balls into coverage every so often and the Baltimore Ravensball hawking secondary that the Colts/Ravens matchup would be a recipe for interceptions. What I didn't know is that guys would end up literally knocking each other out trying to be the one who picked him off.

    With a little less than seven minutes left in the third quarter,
    Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks ran sort of a skinny post between Ravens safeties Terrence Brooks and Darian Stewart down the deep middle of the field. Nicks made a move on Brooks first, so Brooks started to trail him. Stewart was already the deeper of the two safeties, and once the ball was thrown he broke at an angle where he could make a strong play on the ball. The problem was I don't think Stewart could see Brooks behind Nicks until it was already too late and both guys were going all out for the ball.

    Brooks ended up taking the worst of it and had to be carted off. I swear I instinctively looked for a flag to be thrown because it appeared that Stewart hit him helmet to helmet and for a second I forgot they were teammates. They both were in the air with their arms up trying to make a play on the ball, Stewart was just a little bit higher and thus Brooks took the brunt of the collision.

    Got to be more careful next time.

  • On third down of Atlanta's first drive of the second half, Ryan scrambled around to avoid the pass rush and threw an interception to New York Giants safety Quintin Demps. Just as Demps caught the interception, a referee threw a flag right in front of where he was headed trying to pick up some return yards. There were a few Giants players in front of him trying to block, but none of them laid a finger on Falcons running back Rodgers, who came by Demps and swiped the ball out of his hands.

    Having seen the flag already thrown, it appeared that the Giants players figured it was going to be pass interference on them so why bother trying to pick up the fumble. Mind you, the Falcons were leading 13-10 at the time. The Falcons pounced on the ball, recovering it. It turns out that the Giants were only flagged for holding, which would indeed have been an automatic first down but only a gain of 5 yards. They declined the penalty and ended up gaining a first down and 16 yards on the fumble recovery.

    Always play till the whistle, guys!

  • Near the end of the third quarter in the Browns/Titans game, Tennessee punted to Cleveland return man Travis Benjamin who called for a fair catch then promptly muffed it. The Titans swarmed the ball, and one of their reserve safeties Marqueston Huff recovered it at the Browns' 35-yard line. The Titans led 28-13 at the time, and that would have been a huge break for a team playing with its backup quarterback after Jake Locker was knocked out of the game in the first half.

    Unless you watched the game you probably won't hear about that play because it kinda didn't happen. A referee threw a flag on Huff for unsportsmanlike conduct because he deemed that Huff, who was one of the outside gunners on the punt team, had not returned in bounds quick enough after having been blocked out of bounds. I understand the rationale for why doing something like that is worthy of a flag. After all, players on the return team will get a flag if they go out of bounds to block. But there aren't enough cuss words in the known universe to use had I worked that hard and recovered that fumble only to have them throw that flag on me.

    The Titans didn't score at all the rest of the game and lost by one point?!

    Get the #%&$ outta here with that, bruh.

  • I need somebody to explain to me why in the hell Quinton Coples was flagged for unnecessary roughness after his tackle for a loss on San Diego Chargers running back Donald Brown early in the second quarter last Sunday. And I need that explanation ASAP!

    Okay, I understand all the stuff protecting hits to the head, but there is nothing on the books that says a clothesline is illegal. He didn't grab the helmet, and he didn't hit Brown's head. The jackass who made the call was on the other side of the damn field, but even though the referee right behind the play didn't throw a flag and neither did the referee on the same side of the field, they still enforced the phantom penalty?

    BULLSHIT!