Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 375d

Falcons coach Dan Quinn wants a balance on short-yardage play calls

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he wants to maintain an aggressive mentality on offense, but that doesn't necessarily mean looking down the field in every short-yard situation.

In dissecting the film from a 20-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Quinn obviously didn't agree with at least one offensive play call in one of those scenarios: a play-action pass on third-and-1 in the third quarter that resulted in Matt Ryan being pressured and throwing an incomplete pass to tight end Austin Hooper. But at the same time, Quinn wasn't overly critical of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's decision-making.

"As you went back, that one didn't fire me up as much," Quinn said of the third-and-1 pass, "but the run opportunities to go, that definitely affects you sometimes as a play-caller. You got stuffed twice. You go take a shot at it."

Quinn's reference was to a couple of plays in the second quarter that turned the tide in the loss to the Panthers. The Falcons had the ball first-and-5 at Carolina's 39 and had two opportunities to convert on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the 35-yard line. Both Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman got stopped for no gain on those plays.

Based on the film, it appeared tight end Levine Toilolo didn't sustain his block on Mario Addison and left tackle Jake Matthews didn't put enough of a body on Kawann Short on the third-down play, allowing Coleman to get stopped. And on fourth down, fullback Derrick Coleman didn't appear to totally clear out safety Kurt Coleman, who made the play on Freeman.

Quinn didn't single anyone out for committing blunders.

"Obviously there's going to be some type of either technique error or breakdown that doesn't allow you to get the distance that you want," Quinn said. "On both of the runs that came up short on the third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 sequence, both those issues had come up where we either gotten beaten by a play or lost on a technique of play.

"So, as we're going back through it, we're going to go look to see how we can do it different better. But, yeah, they're were definitely issues technique-related."

Quinn revealed going for it on fourth-and-1 had something to do with kicker Matt Bryant aggravating a kicking-leg injury -- possibility related to his calf, although Bryant wouldn't totally confirm -- during pregame warm-ups following the national anthem. Bryant felt well enough to kick a 53-yarder in the first quarter but then didn't feel as confident after the kick. The decision was made to limit Bryant, but Bryant said he felt better after halftime and was well enough to try again from that safe range of 53, if the opportunity would have presented itself in the fourth quarter. The Falcons went for it on fourth-and-7 from the 39 with 8 minutes, 20 seconds remaining, which would have been out of the safe kicking range.

"That contributed to us going for some of the ones that we did as opposed to normally, if Matt's in range, we give him the green light," Quinn said. "We trust him so much."

Even despite Bryant's injury status, one would think the Falcons should feel confident enough to pick up 1 yard on the ground, when needed. If not, such lack of confidence could be a problem for the remainder of the season, with Carolina on the schedule again along with another top run defense in the Minnesota Vikings. Not to mention Dallas and Seattle have the ability to be stout up front, although the numbers might not reflect it.

Blocking often extends beyond the offensive line, but Quinn gave his assessment of his front five going into the second half of the season. He applauded the group's pass protection against the Panthers, but not so much the run-blocking.

"I really trust our group," Quinn said. "We've been good in the run game, and we weren't in (the Carolina) game, in terms of the production that we'd like. But I've got a lot of faith in that group. I really do."

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