By MATT WINKELJOHN
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) – Falcons coach Mike Smith hopes the return of Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White will benefit Atlanta's passing game against the Seattle Seahawks and also aid the NFL's worst-ranked rushing attack.
"Absolutely," the coach exclaimed. "When you have the ability to have resources in the pass game it's going to create a different approach in the way people defend us."
White, listed as questionable after missing three games with ankle and hamstring injuries, certainly doesn't figure to hurt Atlanta in the midst of a miserable season.
Seattle ranks just No. 27 against the run, but the Seahawks (8-1) may not be too worried about slowing the Falcons' ground game.
Atlanta (2-6) is averaging a league-low 64.4 rushing yards per game and have attempted a league-low 149 rushes (18.6 per game).
The offseason acquisition of former Rams running back Stephen Jackson hasn't paid off. He's missed more than four games with a hamstring injury, and has rushed for just 140 yards and a 3.7-yard average per carry.
He's not alone in falling short.
The Falcons aren't running much, and they're not running well. Over the past five games, they've averaged just under 18 carries a game and a mere 45.4 yards rushing.
"There are some simple principles that obviously we can do much better," said left guard Justin Blalock. "I suppose in layman's terms, taking care of the first-level defenders (defensive linemen) is a big part of that."
Atlanta lost projected right tackle Michael Johnson to a broken leg in the first week of training camp.
Second-year pro Lamar Holmes has alternated between right tackle and the left side, where Sam Baker continues to fight injuries. He's missed more than four games. Fullback Patrick DiMarco was signed off the practice squad after Bradie Ewing suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game.
So, there have been plenty of moving parts.
Add injuries to wide receivers White and Julio Jones, and it has been easier for opposing defenses to creep forward and play the Falcons tight.
Halfway through the season, and Jaquizz Rodgers is Atlanta's leading rusher with a modest 220 yards, and a 3.3-yard average.
"In this game, if one guy is not executing, it can ruin the whole play," said running back Jason Snelling, who may see more action in the backfield against Seattle than in the previous two games, when he was out and then limited by an ankle injury.
"When things are not going well, the natural reaction is you start to press and start trying to do things that run against your scheme," Snelling said. "That's happened before. I feel like we have to stick to our scheme and just do it."
The Seahawks haven't been especially adept at slowing the run even though at times they commit eight defenders to it as they trust cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner so implicitly outside.
There's size up front, as defensive end Chris Clemons – who was not healthy when the Falcons edged the Seahawks in the playoffs in January – is back to lead a pass rush that is tied for third in the NFL with 23 sacks.
Seattle made several offseason additions to the defensive line, and may have a much depth there as any team in the league.
That's probably not good news for the Falcons.
"We've got to be better at the point of attack, and . . . we've got to make sure we cut off the backside," coach Smith said when asked what it will take to improve the run game. "We've got to get the plays going so that we can get (past the line of scrimmage). It's going to be important for us to move the line of scrimmage."
Blalock said it's possible.
"A lot of times there has not been, whether it's communication or cohesion or whatever you want to call it, in a lot of combination blocks where one guy will leave too early, maybe another guy sees something differently, that leaves holes in plays," he said.
"I see improvement when we watch film, and now it's a matter of taking it to a game field on a Sunday afternoon."
NOTES: In addition to White, who has just 14 receptions this season, Baker (knee), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (quad) and defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee) are all listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
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