Julio Jones makes Steve Sarkisian see red, as in red zone

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian hopes to enhance one of the league's top offenses, and that could mean more red-zone touches for top receiver Julio Jones.

Sarkisian reiterated Wednesday how he hopes to enhance the offense, not just "uphold it."

"The competitor in me is, 'How far can we take it?'" Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian, who took over for new San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, inherited an offense that led the league in points per game (33.8), yards per play (6.69) and passing yards per play (8.23), plus ranked in the top five in eight major offensive categories.

Still, Sarkisian sees room for improvement, including the use of Jones in the red zone. Last season, Jones had four red-zone receptions on just eight targets, scoring two touchdowns. Running back Devonta Freeman led the Falcons with 12 red-zone receptions on 16 targets with two touchdowns. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was next with nine red-zone receptions on 11 targets with four touchdowns.

Of course, Jones was the one who drew double coverage inside the 20, so MVP Matt Ryan wasn't about to force him the ball when he didn't have to. Plus the Falcons' ranked ninth in the NFL in red-zone percentage at a 61.9 percent conversion rate. But Sarkisian seeks to build on the production.

"I think, No. 1, they were still very good in the red zone," Sarkisian said of last year's Falcons. "But when you have a player like Julio, it's making sure we maximize his opportunities because there is so much double-coverage, there are so many unique coverages that roll his way that when we don't get that, let's make sure he's one of the primary receivers on that play because it is such a tough matchup for anybody one on one."

Besides Jones, Sarkisian also talked about how to best utilize the running back tandem of Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The duo combined for 2,482 total yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016.

"I think first and foremost, we have two really electric tailbacks, and they are bad matchups on defenses," Sarkisian said. "Just making sure we're putting those guys in the best position to be successful -- whether it's separately on the field, whether it's being on the field together."

Nothing is more vital to the offense than the chemistry between Sarkisian and his quarterback, Ryan.

"It's excellent," Sarkisian said of the relationship thus far. "Matt is a very competitive human being, at anything. It doesn't matter if we're shooting hoops at the front of the team room, he's a competitive guy. But we'll say for a guy who has had so much success, his willingness and humbleness to want to be coached -- in his mind, he hasn't made it. It's about, `How do I get better? What do I need to work on?'

"Coming out of the first meeting, he really wanted me to dig into his game overall from a year ago and where can he improve. I think that just speaks volumes to the type of player he is, the type of teammate, the type of leader. Anybody that walks in this building, when you see that guy working as hard as he works, it's contagious."