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Matt Ryan finds plenty of areas to improve as Falcons come off bye

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Naturally, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wants to clean up the turnovers after committing six already. But there's another area of emphasis for Ryan as the team returns to action off the bye.

"One, I think we can be better on third downs, myself included," Ryan said. "When we have opportunities to keep drives going, especially in that third-and-6-to-10 range, we can be better than we've been. I can be better than I've been up until this point. That's probably the No. 1 thing of all the things that we look at that can help us win games right away.

"So if we can be a little bit better there, if I can be a little bit better in that part of the game, I think that's going to help us."

Going into Sunday's matchup with the Miami Dolphins (2-2), the Falcons (3-1) actually rank No. 8 of the 32 teams in third-down offense, converting 43.2 percent, which is one percent better than they finished last season. But on third-and-6 or longer, the Falcons are converting 28 percent, just below the league average of 28.3 percent.

Ryan, on third-and-6 or longer, has completed 13-of-21 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, three sacks taken, and a passer rating of 64.4. Four of those third-and-long pass plays have occurred in the red zone, and only one has led to a conversion and touchdown: a third-and-16 to Devonta Freeman for 18 yards against Detroit that resulted in Ryan's four-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu.

Of course, success on first and second down can set up shorter third-down situations. The Falcons have converted 70.6 percent of opportunities on third-and-4 or shorter, which ranks seventh. The league average is 58.6 percent.

As for the turnovers, Ryan said after a loss to the Buffalo Bills that he planned to clean those up after the bye. Not all were his fault, however, with some tipped and dropped balls. Whatever the case, the Falcons have six giveaways and just two takeaways, giving them a minus-4 turnover ratio that ranks tied for 28th in the league along with NFC South front-runner Carolina.

"It's one of those things, sometimes it happens," Ryan said of the turnovers. "That's part of playing the game. Sometimes you have tipped balls. Sometimes you have some plays that don't go your way. But it's about being resilient.

"It's about being mentally tough and continuing to stay aggressive; doing the things that we've done to be at our best and trusting that that process and the routine and deal that we have is the right one. And I really believe it is. I think it will start to go our way. We just have to keep working at it."

Ryan said the Falcons have to keep working on hitting the deep balls. On passes he's thrown of 30-plus air yards, he has completed 2 of 10 for 127 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 72.9. Last season he was 10 of 22 on such passes for 496 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 131.6.

One of those completions was a ball thrown 36 yards to wide-open tight end Austin Hooper, who stiff-armed the rest of the way for an 88-yard touchdown in Chicago. The other completion was thrown 32 yards to running back Tevin Coleman for a 39-yard pickup.

Ryan is 0 of 8 when targeting his primary deep threats, Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel, on balls thrown 30-plus yards. Some of that might have to do with not getting a lot of time to work with them leading into the season, as Jones recovering from foot surgery and Gabriel from a lower leg injury. And some of it has to do with the defenses the Falcons have faced, with safeties cheating over to take away such big plays.

"It's definitely an area we can be better," Ryan said of taking those shots. "We've been close. We just haven't hit them. We've got to keep taking our shots when they're there. And when they're not there, making good decisions with the football."

Getting Jones back totally healthy from a hip flexor injury will be key in connecting on those long balls. Ryan hopes the Falcons can find other ways to create explosive plays as well, like giving Jones, Gabriel, Coleman, and Freeman the ball in space to go make plays.

Ryan also might have more opportunities to create big plays with better protection, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder is to return to the lineup after missing two games with a concussion. The Falcons certainly will be challenged this week by a strong Dolphins defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.