Growing Pains Falcons Style


The Atlanta Falcons offense has been, well, inconsistent to say the least. There are several things that are problems for our offense that I’ve been thinking about that need to be fixed in the next weeks, and following offseason.

The first is that the Falcons are making a major transition on offense. Look at the formula for winning for the 2010 squad compared with that of this season. Last season revolved around controlling the clock, running the ball as much as possible, lots of short routes, few intermediate routes, and what would be considered a ball control offense. There is nothing wrong with that, as some people consider this type of play to be boring or slow. I would agree that it caused many long drives, but those long drives resulted in points, and ultimately victories.  The 2010 team is attempting to change into a downfield passing team, and there are some obvious growing pains happening.Follow the jump and read more about this transition.

Running the ball is a dream for the offensive line, and lets them take out all their aggression on the defensive line. It may sound silly, but offensive linemen love opening holes for the running backs. The other element from last year was extensive use of the short passing game. These routes were just long enough for first downs, and allowed Ryan to not take very deep drops and get the ball out of his hands quickly. Yeah sure, there were a few big down field plays, but they were so few and far between, that generally the opponents defense had eight men in the box before the Falcons threw it way downfield. The result of this was controlled clock, long drives, points on nearly every one, and lots of touchdowns as a result.

Here is the thing: that formula doesn’t work against a defense who can man up, and stack the box against the run. Last year, that team was the Green Bay Packers. When they manned up on our receivers with Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields, they prevented the pass, got interceptions, created pressure on Ryan and stuffed Michael Turner. To counter this, the Falcons decided to become more explosive and draft Julio Jones.

This transition was not nearly as smooth as was previously thought. Early on, the play calling was focused far too much on throwing the ball to White, Jones, and Gonzalez. I think forcing the ball would be a better description. Ryan have not been on the same page for a good portion of the season. I think the lockout had a lot to do with that. Roddy White missed alot of non-mandatory team activities before the new CBA was agreed upon, and given his play I think he wasn’t doing enough to get ready for the season. Ryan worked alot with Julio Jones on the playbook, but still there have been multiple times where the timing between the two are off. Take the game against the Texans for example. The second interception was intended for Jones, but instead of sitting down in front of the defense or cutting across the face of the defensive back, he streaked up the field and never looked back for the ball. By the time he should have gotten his head around for the ball, Ryan had already released the football for a predetermined route. Unfortunately, Jones never got the message, and it turned into another crucial turnover. I’m not saying every error is the fault of the receivers, but the miscommunication between QB and receiver has been detrimental.

The second difference between last year and this year’s offense is the line play. Last year the line was asked to do significantly less. Open up holes for the running game, and hold up in pass protection for only a couple seconds at most. As a result, many of the weaknesses along the line were not exposed. Sam Baker was not outstanding his first three years, but he got the job done. This year, he was completely overmatched and overwhelmed by opposing defensive ends. Svitek has done a much better job, but this exapmle is only to show how different the offense is. Instead of a three step drop and getting the ball out, there have been more 5 and 7 step drops combined with Ryan needing to hold the ball a beat longer for his receiver to get open. While it is Ryan’s responsibility to not expose his line to getting beat, the line has not been used to having to pass protect for long periods of time. Significant strides have been made since the first three games of the season, but significant strides still need to be made (along with possible draft picks for the line) for the Falcons line to be good enough for the full potential of the offensive weapons to be realized.

The play calling has been poor. Mike Mularkey has not been performing his job very well including calling too many deep passing plays to receivers, when Matt Ryan has little to no time to throw the ball. He consistently calls deep passes on first down, runs on second down, and deep throws on third down. That is not ball control, and when the line isn’t performing well and the receivers aren’t on the same page, it sure is hard to get things done on first down. And when there is no positive gain on first down, the defense can continue to tee off on the offense. This is just one example, but it really goes down to Play Calling 101. Understanding the personnel, game situations, and so forth are not being done very well, and the team is suffering significantly. Better play calling is necessary. Many Falcons fans are calling for his head, and at some point it may not be unreasonable to acquiesce those requests.

Finally, Ryan must execute better. When it all boils down, it comes to execution on the part of the quarterback. He has to hit receiver downfield when they are open, just look at the first two passing plays of the game against the Texans. By missing on those throws on receivers who correctly ran their routes and got way open. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he had all kinds of ideas on Ryan’s game. “Matt has poor decision making, Matt isn’t athletic enough, Matt isn’t smart enough to play quarterback, Matt has a noodle for an arm.” The more I heard from this friend, the worse it got. I’m here to tell you that when he misses on wide open receivers, he also opens himself up to this type of criticism. But I also need to issue this warning Falcons fans: Do not continue to look into the horizon for the next quarterback. Ryan is the present and future of this franchise. He may not have a cannon, but he certainly has a strong enough arm to make every NFL throw. He is a very smart QB and makes great decisions, especially in the no-huddle. Ryan really is the strength of this team, and all Falcons faithful need to jump on this train that the majority of Atlanta fans already have. We have the pieces in place, it is simply execution that needs improvement.