Falcons' offense takes to the air under Petrino Print
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Friday, 05 October 2007 02:14
NFL Headline News

 FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -Alge Crumpler dreams of balance in the Atlanta Falcons' offense.
``The game is fun when you can throw short routes, get guys involved, take shots downfield, run the ball effectively and then complement that with a great play-action game,'' the four-time Pro Bowl tight end said.
Crumpler has seen the Falcons enjoy success moving the ball in all those ways in his seven seasons - but rarely at the same time.
After two seasons of leading the NFL in rushing while struggling to establish a consistent passing game behind quarterback Michael Vick, the 2007 Falcons have a new look with coach Bobby Petrino and quarterback Joey Harrington.
The run-first Falcons of recent years sought balance with an improved passing attack under Petrino, but through four games the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.
The Falcons, who were held under 100 yards rushing in only one game last year, have yet to run for 100 in any this season. The last time the Falcons went four straight games without doing so was Nov. 19-Dec. 17 in the 2000 season.
The passing game is on the upswing, however. Harrington has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in three of four games and has thrown four touchdown passes with no interceptions the last two weeks.
Warrick Dunn, who has three straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing, set a season high with his modest total of 62 yards in last week's 26-16 win over Houston. Dunn also has the team's only touchdown run.
The Falcons, who play at Tennessee on Sunday, have dropped to No. 22 in the league in rushing while improving to No. 11 in passing.
``Part of the reason (Petrino) was brought in was to improve our passing game,'' Crumpler said. ``We as players felt we were going to be able to implement some of the things that we were successful in running the football into this new system, but all that has been scrapped. I think that's part of the reason our run game has struggled.''
Petrino says he is encouraged by the improved passing game, including long-awaited lead roles by receivers Michael Jenkins and Roddy White. Jenkins had two touchdown catches against Houston. But he says he wants more balance.
``No question. That's our emphasis,'' Petrino said. ``We need to run the ball more and we need to run it better. I think they go hand and hand. We are working hard at it and we are getting close.''
Vick became the first NFL quarterback to run for 1,000 yards last season. When he was suspended indefinitely by the league following his guilty plea on federal dogfighting charges, it was obvious there would be a significant drop in the team's rushing total.
Even without Vick, however, the Falcons had confidence in the combination of Dunn and second-year running back Jerious Norwood. But Norwood has not had even 10 carries in a game yet.
Meanwhile, Harrington was sacked 13 times in his first two games and appeared in danger of losing his job when the team signed Byron Leftwich.
Harrington responded to a public challenge from Petrino with two of the best passing games in team history in consecutive weeks.
Harrington passed for 361 yards against Carolina - the ninth-best passing total in team history and the high mark since Jeff George threw for 386 yards against New Orleans in 1995.
Then, in the team's first win last week, Harrington completed 79.3 percent of his passes - 23 of 29 for 223 yards. The only quarterback in team history with a higher completion percentage in a game was Steve Bartkowski, who was more accurate in three games.
``I think a lot of it has to do with confidence,'' Harrington said. ``My confidence is higher than at any other point in my NFL career. I have been saying it since I got here. Mentally I am ready to take this offense on.''
Harrington has thrown quick, short passes to avoid sacks, but he also has looked for Jenkins and White downfield. Harrington says the short passes establish confidence for the longer throws.
``We throw plenty of short balls so you get into a rhythm,'' he said. ``When the opportunity presents itself to take a shot down the field, you feel good. You feel like you are in the flow of the game and that you can throw a strike. That's kind of what is going on right now. It is a combination of me feeling good throwing the ball and getting in a rhythm.''
Crumpler has not been ignored. He is second on the team with 16 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown.
``It's just an adjustment we've had to learn how to make,'' Crumpler said. ``There are guys we brought in that we counted on as high draft picks, like Roddy and Michael, who are flourishing now because of the system we brought in. It brings a smile to my face because those guys have transformed their games. They are stepping up and making big plays for our team.''
 

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