Leaving the playoff struggles aside, the most basic criticism of Mularkey is that he doesn't understand the strengths of his own attack. The Falcons are at their best when Matt Ryan is throwing the ball around to the toys that Thomas Dimitroff has bought for him.I heard a good call this morning on 790 by a fan arguing that the problem is that the running game is so uni-directional. The Giants' runners can all change direction and cut back, but Turner just plods between the tackles whether or not the blocking is there. Interestingly, the Falcons are above-average in their percentage of runs going outside, so I'm not sure that this criticism is valid, but it sure feels right after yesterday.
The Falcons' running game is overrated by people who only look at raw numbers. Michael Turner was 39th in the NFL in DVOA this year. Put another way, he was below average in terms of his success rate on a per-play basis. Collectively, the Falcons' running game ranked 25th in the NFL by Football Outsiders' numbers. If you look at the more conventional yards per carry number, the Falcons jump all the way up to 22nd. An objective observer would look at this team and conclude that their approach in January should have been to throw the ball and then use the run on occasion to keep the defense honest. Mularkey, whether because of ideological rigidity or a misguided notion of avoiding the Giants' pass rush, stubbornly gave Turner nine carries in the first half. Those carries produced a whopping 27 yards. Did Mularkey react to this evidence by refraining from wasting downs in the second half? No, he started the half by giving Turner three more carries that produced ten yards. The Falcons blew their chances when the defense was playing really well.
* - The full chant there is "[Insert name of inept manager or club owner], cabron, fuera del Calderon." Catchy, no?