By CHARLES ODUM
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — This is not the way Tevin Coleman hoped to pad his resume entering possible free agency.
Coleman had an excellent opportunity to show he can be a lead running back when Atlanta Falcons starter Devonta Freeman was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 16. Coleman had been productive in a shared role with Freeman the last three years, but his chance to shine as the clear-cut starter hasn’t worked out as planned.
The Falcons’ running game has flopped. Atlanta ranks last in the NFL in rushing entering Sunday’s game at the Green Bay Packers.
The blame can’t rest only on Coleman and rookie backup Ito Smith. In recent weeks there has been no room to run behind a makeshift offensive line. It’s a big reason the Falcons (4-8) have lost four straight games .
Instead of seizing the job and increasing his value on the free-agent market, Coleman has hit a wall. He has 14 carries for 14 yards in the last two games.
Coleman said Wednesday he’s not concerned about the possible financial hit to his free-agent outlook.
“I’m really not thinking about that right now,” Coleman said. “I’m just thinking about playing my game.”
Smith had more carries than Coleman in last week’s 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens , though neither back was effective.
Smith had seven carries for 22 yards. Coleman ran for only eight yards on a season-low six carries.
“That wasn’t by design at all,” said coach Dan Quinn of Coleman’s reduced role.
The Falcons ran only five plays in the third quarter against the Ravens’ top-ranked defense. Coleman had three carries on Atlanta’s opening possession and only three more the remainder of the game.
Coleman lost yardage on three of his six carries.
“It’s definitely been frustrating but we’ve just got to keep on working, keep coming out here and practicing hard and getting the right looks we need to get,” Coleman said.
When the running game isn’t working, Matt Ryan’s play-action passing game also suffers. Ryan’s 131 yards passing against the Ravens set a career low for a full game.
Clearly, it’s crucial for Coleman and the Falcons to revive their running attack.
“It sets up everything,” guard Ben Garland said Wednesday. “We have to run the ball better so we’re allowed to run the ball more and have more play-pass. It sets up the rest of our offense
The Falcons face difficult offseason decisions at running back.
Freeman signed a five-year, $41.25 million extension before the 2017 season, making him one of the NFL’s highest paid running backs. He has played in only two games this season due to knee, foot and groin injuries. Freeman and Coleman each missed time with concussions in 2017.
Coleman, in his fourth season, ran for 107 yards in a Week 2 win over Carolina . He has only one other game with at least 60 yards. Overall, he has 514 yards rushing with two touchdowns.
Season-ending injuries to starting guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco have hurt ground game, especially in the last few weeks.
“Really over the last four games is where we felt like we hit a wall,” Quinn said.
Quinn is trying every option on the patchwork line. Zane Beadles started over Garland at right guard against the Ravens. On Wednesday, Ty Sambrailo took snaps ahead of starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Quinn has not said if Beadles will make another start or he will make a change at right tackle.
Breaking the season into four-game quarters, Quinn is looking at Sunday’s game as the start of the team’s fourth quarter and another chance to find the missing running game.
“We’re going to keep digging hard,” he said. “You know how important it is to us and the team. We’re not backing off even though the results over the last third quarter have not been what we want. We’re starting fresh for us in this fourth quarter … going after it as hard as we can in every way.”