Some things haven’t really changed, and the Atlanta Falcons winning football games is one of those things. The Falcons continue to rack up wins at an unprecedented rate in franchise history. However, the Falcons were dominating early in the season, mainly outstanding offensive production, simply hasn’t been there in recent weeks. It’s a disturbing trend that concerns me greatly.
The Falcons red-zone offense hasn’t been particularly good all season long. The Falcons only score touchdowns on 55% of their red-zone possessions on the season. While they converted at a much higher rate of 66% against the Saints on Thursday, they also only had three possessions in the red-zone. That makes it very difficult to convert red-zone opportunities when you don’t get the ball in that part of the field. If the Falcons converted at 66% and had six red-zone possessions, that would be right about where this team needs to be. As it is, they just aren’t moving the ball well enough anywhere in the field.
It’s clear that the Falcons aren’t moving the ball well enough. They had a great possession to start the game, mostly by running the ball. They also had another fantastic possession when Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez in the end-zone for a touchdown. But there were far too many incomplete passes in crucial situations, especially third downs.
On third downs against the Saints, the Falcons were converting at a rate of 1 for 11. That’s less than 10%. That’s atrocious. It’s normal to be around 50% or better, but 10% is beyond bad. Some of those failed third downs were from runs that went for a loss or no gain, and the Falcons have struggled to run the ball in short yardage situations all season long. But the bigger problem was that Ryan and his receivers weren’t able to get hardly anything done on third downs, the money down, the situation where the quarterback has to complete passes to his receivers for first downs. It seemed like the intended receiver was completely blanketed and the pass fell incomplete, or was completely off target, or Ryan was sacked. I was sitting in section 346 wondering how in the world Ryan missed some of his wide, wide open receivers that would have easily been first downs. It’s troubling that the Falcons, with a plethora of offensive weapons experienced a dearth of third down conversions.
I took a look in the passes targeted by receiver, and the actual receptions by receiver. Nearly every Falcons receiver caught the majority or more passes intended for them, except for one. That receiver was Roddy White, the player that I noticed Ryan targeted the most on third down situations. Several times he short hopped White, the pass was deflected, whatever the thing may have been, it didn’t work out. White was targeted 7 times. He only caught 1 pass for 20 yards. That’s absolutely not acceptable, and I think Ryan bears a lot of responsibility for not getting the ball to the receivers. But it also is problematic that the Falcons receivers weren’t able to get better separation against a terrible Saints defense. There will certainly be much better defenses the Falcons will face the rest of the season or in the postseason, and the receiving corps will have to get separation against them.
One final note. Against the Saints, the Falcons were able to rush for a total of 124 yards which is a major step in the right direction for this offense. Granted, it was against an abysmal New Orleans defense, but running the ball as well as they did is fantastic. But the scary thing is how poorly they threw the ball. Against a poor Saints defensive line and even worse secondary, the Falcons only completed 54% of their passes for 165 yards. That’s really not a positive. The Saints had given up at least 400 total yards in the first eleven games of the season. On Thursday night the Falcons only generated 283 total yards. I would have liked for Atlanta to have thrown for at least another 100 yards. If they had hit on four or five of those third down attempts that didn’t work out, they almost certainly would have. And those yards would have gotten them more red-zone opportunities, and chances to score.
The Falcons also aren’t doing a very good job of winning the time of possession battle. There once was a time where the Falcons dominated week in and week out in that aspect, but as of late things haven’t gone well. Against the Saints, the Falcons only had the ball for 26 minutes. They had too many failed third downs, and three-and-out situations, and far too often the immediately gave the ball back to the Saints. Luckily the Falcons defense was there to bail them out with interceptions, but you can’t count on that. The Falcons offense is going to have to do much better possessing the football and playing keep-away from other teams. That will put more pressure on opponents, and make things go much better for Atlanta.
These are my thoughts on what is wrong with the Falcons offense. They are things that are clearly fixable, but it needs to be done much sooner than later. The Falcons have to find a way to convert more third downs, get into the red-zone, and then score more often when actually in that part of the field. If they don’t fix that quickly, the Atlanta offense could struggle, and the defense might not always have a 5 interception performance up their collective sleeves.