Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 319d

Falcons hope to find answers to variety of problems in second half of season

CHARLOTTE -- The words continue to sound repetitive, and so do the end results.

Every week, coach Dan Quinn, quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta Falcons talk about fixing third-down issues on both sides of the ball, avoiding offensive turnovers, running the ball more, and learning from costly penalties. And every week, those same problems continue to arise.

Now at 4-4 and heading into the second half of the season, the Falcons know it's time to actually correct those problem rather than just acknowledge them. They dropped their first NFC South game with Sunday's loss to Carolina. The New Orleans Saints lead the division at 6-2, followed the Panthers at 6-3.

"Not concerned at all, but we've got to get going," wide receiver Julio Jones said. "We've got to get rolling. We've got to start putting some games together and winning some ball games."

Forget about all the talk from last year and how the high-octane offense that averaged 33.8 points per game struck fear in everyone, leading to a Super Bowl berth. The Falcons have to figure out how to win with the 2017 version, which includes all the same offensive playmakers and a young defense that was supposed to be a year wiser.

The defense actually has made strides even despite allowing a season-high 201 rushing yards to Cam Newton and the Panthers in defeat. Keanu Neal's pair of forced fumbles and forcing Carolina to 4-of-13 on third down would attest to that. But everyone knows the Falcons won't get to where they need to be without the offense regaining at least a portion of its dominance.

Take Sunday, for example. The reigning MVP Ryan threw for 313 yards, but, as noted by ESPN Stats and Info, he was 4-of-10 on third and fourth down, converting just two of those for first downs. His top target, Jones, had a season-high 118 receiving yards, but the typically sure-handed Jones dropped what would have been a 39-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. And the running back combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 51 yards on 16 carries days after Quinn emphasized the importance of establishing the running game and having "in the high 20s" in rushing attempts.

The number that symbolized the Falcons' struggles against Carolina more than anything else was this: In eight offensive plays that were either second-and-1, third-and-1, fourth-and-1, or second-and-2, the Falcons didn't accumate a yard. They gained six but also lost six on a Ryan sack.

"We had a lot of third-and-short situations [and] in those situations, you've got to find a way to get it done," Ryan said. "Our executions in those type of situations is really one of the differences in the game [against Carolina], and has been the case throughout the season."

Ryan and the offense converting on third down had been an emphasis the last few weeks. A 4-of-12 third-down showing against Panthers would indicate things are going in one ear and out the other. The Falcons are 11-of-35 on third down over the last three games, numbers that won't get them to the postseason if it continues.

"Anytime you don't convert, you get disappointed, especially when you think you have the right play call to execute it to go and attack," Quinn said, specific to the short-yardage plays. "We love the opportunity to go for it on those situations, based on the runners and how we attack. We didn't get the job done at the line of scrimmage, for sure."

The Falcons have to find answers quickly, with Dallas (5-3) and Seattle (5-3) next up on the schedule before another division tussel against struggling Tampa Bay (2-6) in Week 12. The Cowboys offensive line could dominate the line of scrimmage, while the Seahawks' defensive front has the potential to do the same. The Buccaneers remain a question mark.

Quinn isn't consumed with the opponent.

"It's completely about us," Quinn said. "When you go into that way, it's much easier to find the things to correct."

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