FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons were 2-for-4 in the red zone in last week's 27-20 loss to the Steelers. Settling for those field goals obviously had a significant impact, based on the final margin.
Yet offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wasn't as discouraged about the situation as one might think he would be. His rationale was based on the offense's season-long performance in the red zone.
"It seems like we talk about this every week: I mean, you guys think we suck in the red zone," Koetter said. "We're fifth in the NFL in the red zone. Unfortunately, we needed to be 100 percent last week, and we were 50 percent. So, it's what you need that week. And to beat the Saints, we're probably going to need a higher percentage."
The Falcons indeed stand fifth in the league in converting 65 percent of their red zone opportunities (26-for-40). But their record is also 5-9, and they will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Saints (6-8) Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, so those statistics in the red zone really are meaningless.
In other words, every red zone opportunity will be crucial from here on out. The Falcons actually were 3-for-3 in the red zone during a season-opening, 37-34 overtime win over the Saints, who currently stand 27th in the league in red zone defense in allowing opponents to convert 63 percent of the time.
In last week's loss to the Steelers, Falcons receiver Roddy White said it was unacceptable not to score a touchdown after having second-and-goal from the 2-yard line. On that particular play -- a Steven Jackson run for a two-yard loss -- the offensive line didn't get the job done blocking. Then an incompletion by Matt Ryan on third down from the 4 led to Matt Bryant's 22-yard field.
It's fair to wonder if the Falcons need to make their red zone and goal-line chances four-down situations, based on the urgency of the moment.
"That's a question you'll have to ask [Mike Smith]," Koetter said. "That's a question that he'll have to make those decisions as we work through the week. Are those critical? Absolutely. This is like a one-game playoff. We're not looking at it as a two-game, we're looking at it as one game. There is nothing after this week as far as we're concerned right now."