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Atlanta Falcons hoping new ground game will click

Forget the final score. The Atlanta Falcons came away from Thursday night's 27-23 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens encouraged with their progress on the ground.

One week after running back Steven Jackson sputtered for just 8 yards on five carries against the Cincinnati Bengals, he came to life against Baltimore's defense, galloping for 42 yards on eight attempts.

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"Having success tonight is great for our confidence," Jackson said after the game, per the Falcons' official website. "We feel we have the potential to run the ball well every week. The key is to keep getting better. Every preseason game presents a different challenge and a chance to improve."

The Falcons were intentional about establishing the run early. Coach Mike Smith said his offense did "a nice job of running the ball in the first half," but questions linger about Atlanta's reshuffled offensive line -- and Jackson.

Let's start with Steven. He still packs a punch. Jackson was effective Thursday grinding between the tackles. He can barrel up the gut of a defense like he did with the St. Louis Rams, but Jackson struggles getting to the edges. The Falcons fed him a steady diet of inside runs, because that's what SJax gives you at this stage in his career. Don't plan to see him employed on sweeps; Jackson lacks the lateral agility to pile up those yards in 2013.

Making matters worse, the Falcons have issues blocking to the edges. On Thursday, with Tony Gonzalez watching from the sideline, backup tight ends Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo lost too many matchups with Ravens defenders. The Falcons averaged just 4.1 yards per carry going off tackle or wider in 2012, per ProFootballFocus.com, and they avoided doing so against Baltimore.

The Falcons' line -- with new faces at center, right guard and right tackle -- held its own in pass protection against the Ravens, but it's the run game it struggles with. History suggests that isn't a deal-breaker when it comes to a playoff push, but Atlanta's ground game remains a work in progress, with or without Steven Jackson.

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