The Atlanta Falcons started the season 5-0, averaging 32.4 points per game while converting 14-of-19 in the red zone with five total turnovers. Then they lost three of the next four games, averaging just 16.8 points per game while going 6-of-14 in the red zone and turning the ball over nine times. Here are five ways the Falcons can fix the offense moving forward:
Get Roddy White more touches: It’s no secret the veteran receiver hasn’t been a major part of the offensive game plan with 17 receptions on 29 targets. He’s had three or less targets in four games. He’s been the first read on some three-steps slants, but those opportunities have been very scarce. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan obviously views matchups for Devonta Freeman and Jacob Tamme against linebackers and safeties -- and Leonard Hankerson against cornerbacks, when healthy -- as better choices behind unquestioned top target Julio Jones. But as coach Dan Quinn said Monday, White is an important part of what the Falcons are trying to accomplish, so White needs be targeted. At age 34, he’s not the same vertical threat he used to be, but he still has the ability to create separation using his football savvy. He could have been a solid option in clutch situations like those foiled goal-line scenarios against the 49ers and Titans. The competitor in White probably would rather be a spectator on the sideline than be on the field as a non-contributor while the offense struggles, but he’s not about to scream at Shanahan for more looks. Besides, White said his piece when he told ESPN.com he didn’t want to be out there just blocking. As long as White maintains a cool head, he’ll prevail.
Run more no-huddle: This is easier said than done. Shanahan is no doubt open to the idea and will respect whatever Quinn believes is best for the team, and Quinn said the no-huddle was something he’d consider. At the same time, there are other factors to weigh, such as how the uptempo pace will affect the emphasis on Freeman and a running game that is so crucial to the flow of Shanahan’s offense. That’s not to say the Falcons won’t be able to run out of the no-huddle. They just might run into some bad looks with one-back sets and no fullback or tight end in there for blocking purposes and an inexperienced center in Mike Person trying to make the run-blocking calls. The other factor here is Ryan having more control of the offense, which is something Shanahan has to be willing to accept. Everyone knows the no-huddle has worked effectively for Ryan and the Falcons in the past. If the Falcons use it against the Colts and are successful, then keep doing it. "I feel like, if it comes up, it’s something that we’re going to be prepared for and we’re going to do really well," Ryan said Tuesday during his weekly radio show. But you better believe Shanahan believes in his offense as is, with better execution. By the way, the Falcons are averaging 29.4 seconds per play as opposed to 28.3 seconds the last three seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Let Matt Ryan be Matt Ryan: This plays into the point above, with the no-huddle taking advantage of Ryan’s strength as an intelligent pocket passer who can get the ball out quickly. But let’s go deeper. Shanahan seems like a reasonable guy, so if Ryan feels uncomfortable running aspects of the offense or is thrown off by all he is asked to with this massive playbook, then maybe things should be scaled back. Publicly, Ryan has said all the right things. But behind closed doors, teammates will tell you he voices his displeasure with emphasis when the offense isn’t operating efficiently. Yes, Ryan has been off through the first nine games with uncharacteristically bad throws and technique flaws, leading to seven interceptions to go along with three lost fumbles. Being more accurate is his emphasis for the remainder of the season. At the same time, Ryan, with more than 30,0000 career passing yards and a career 64.3 percent completion percentage, has earned the right to have a strong voice. If Ryan believes going down the field more often to Jones and others will help get the offense back to where it needs to be, then he should nudge Shanahan. If he thinks the bootlegs are taking him out of his rhythm, he needs to let it be known. He’s had to adjust his game to a new offense, and maybe now the offense needs to adjust to him.
Don't drop the ball: This term can be used literally and figuratively. The receivers have had their share of drops, led by Hankerson with five drops in seven games. Even Jones has had a few drops, although he’s been targeted a team-high 120 times. Those drops take the offense out of rhythm and lead to undesirable third-down situations, and being better on third down was an emphasis during the bye week. The Falcons have lost seven of their 14 fumbles. And they’ve dropped the ball with penalties as well, with 22 offensive holding penalties (two declined) and nine false starts. Those penalties have amounted to 238 total yards and have nullified 93 yards gained while stalling eight drives. "There’s certain penalties that you can kind of live with being aggressive, but there are certain things that are on us," Ryan said. "The procedural stuff, the snaps, those kinds of thing, if we can clean those up -- which have put us behind in some first-and-10 situations where we’ve had to play from behind the sticks and had a couple of turnovers as a result of that in scoring situations -- the outcome's going to be different for us. And that’s got to be a huge point of emphasis for us. And that starts in practice. We’ve got to be on it every day, working our cadence ... being sharp across the board."
Take a long look at the line: This group has been solid for the most part through the season, save for the snapping issues at center with both Person and James Stone. It’s no wonder Person and Stone spent extra time following Monday’s practice working on their snapping. While Gino Gradkowski is known as the best snapper of the group, Person’s run blocking is what has earned him the No. 1 job, so he needs to clean up the other aspect to retain it. And for those fans lobbying for former first-overall pick Jake Long to be inserted into the lineup, he might be gaining ground on right tackle Ryan Schraeder, but Schraeder won’t go down without a fight. Had Long been healthy upon joining the team, there were some internal discussions about Jake Matthews playing guard. That probably had to do with finding a way to get the best five on the field and knowing Matthews is talented and athletic enough to adjust. But it’s a moot point now, and a healthy Matthews has shown the great promise he has as the left tackle for years to come. As for Long, his body coming off those knee surgeries doesn’t move like it used, so he remains as insurance if Schraeder falters.