On Monday, Morris announced his decision to make Ito Smith the lead running back for the Falcons’ Week 16 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Raheem Morris says Todd Gurley’s role has changed. Morris said Ito Smith is the lead runner right now. #Falcons
— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) December 21, 2020
But it’s not because of Gurley’s injured knee.
Raheem Morris said Ito Smith is the lead back in this offense now. Todd Gurley's role has changed to complementary and it hasn't been due to his knee, Morris said.
— Jason Butt (@JasonHButt) December 21, 2020
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Falcons Utilizing Gurley Less Since Week 12 Absence
Gurley signed with the Falcons in the offseason and was the primary running back early in the year, playing at least 45 snaps in every game until Week 10. By Week 11, the two-time All-Pro had played just 23 snaps, missed Week 12 with lingering knee issues, played 22 in Week 13, only 19 in Week 14, and down to 16 this past weekend.
In Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith carried six times for 24 yards, while backup Brian Hill rushed just five times for minus-two yards and Gurley carried once for a loss of one. Gurley did, however, have the most receiving yards of the trio with 15.
Over the last four contests, Gurley has rushed 23 times for 60 yards and zero touchdowns, while Smith has rushed 37 times for 167 yards and one touchdown over that the same span.
So far this season, the three-time Pro Bowler has rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
Smith has been much more effective on his carries, however, he hasn’t singlehandedly fixed the Falcons’ ground game. Through Week 15, he has rushed for 213 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.
Falcons vs. Chiefs Matchup
While the Falcons probably will use their wideouts more than the ground attack this weekend, it’s going to be a tough test for Smith to start against the defending Super Bowl champs.
The Chiefs have been on a roll this season en route to another Super Bowl. Andy Reid and company have won their past nine games after having just one surprising loss in Week 5 to the Las Vegas Raiders
In last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints, MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns to top off their regular season with a perfect 8-0 road record.
Some good news for Atlanta’s run defense is that the Chiefs could be without running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire after the standout rookie injured his hip and ankle on Sunday, likely forcing him out of action for the remainder of the regular season.
Still, the Chiefs shouldn’t miss him too much on their weapon-filled offense that has scored at least 22 points per game and more than 30 in nine of their 14 matchups to date. That puts them at number two in the league in points scored (31.1 PPG), first in total yards (427.9 YPG) and first in passing yards (311.4 YPG). Not to mention, wideout Tyreek Hill has taken his game to the next level, hauling in 48 passes for 674 yards and eight touchdowns over the past six outings alone.
As for the Falcons, they currently stand at fourth in passing yards (273.4 yards per game) and 15th in scoring (25.4 points per game). Their weakest link is on defense, coming in at 31st against the pass (287.7 YPG) and 28th in total yards allowed (392.4 YPG). Atlanta will certainly need all of their injured starters on defense and offense back for this game in order to, at least, keep pace a little bit.