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Matt Ryan says offense a 'work in progress' but Falcons will get back in zone

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  • mcclure_vaughn.png&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClure
  • ESPN Staff Writer




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan certainly sees no reason to panic.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback and reigning MVP knows the offense wasn't as efficient as it needed to be in a 23-17 season-opening win over the Chicago Bears. Scoring less than 30 points and going 1-for-3 in the red zone just didn't look right for an team that put so much emphasis on red zone work in the preseason and an offense that averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game a year ago.

But again, Ryan isn't overly concerned.

"I wasn't panicking, for sure," Ryan said. "Obviously, there's always things you'd like to do better in any game. And when we watch the film, there's certain things we can get better at, and that's what we work on during practice. You know, it's all about trying to get better week to week, and that's really the focus. And the good teams that I've been on in the past are the ones that continue to get better throughout the year.

"We're a work in progress right now for sure. But, you know, I think we're working hard on the practice field. I think the experience of that first game for everybody together is going to serve us well moving forward to the second one."

The Falcons will look to reestablish their offensive rhythm Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers in a rematch of last season's NFC Championship Game. In fact, the teams faced each other twice last season, with the Falcons taking both contest by scores of 33-32 in the regular season and 44-21 in the playoffs. The offense was 8-of-10 in the red zone during those games, with Ryan throwing five red zone touchdowns without an interception.



Last week's red zone woes had much to do with the running game being stuck, at times, although Devonta Freeman did score on a 5-yard touchdown run. A couple holding penalties didn't help, either, although the Falcons overcame one of those on Jake Matthews prior to the Freeman score.

"Yeah, I think you have to stay on schedule, for sure," Ryan said of avoiding penalties in the red zone. "That's something that's huge down there. When you put yourself behind the chains, specifically in the red area, it's tough to overcome it. ... When you have your opportunities, for sure you have to make your plays because they don't come up often when you're down that tight.

"But there's a lot of good things we did in that area, too. The run for the touchdown was nice. When you can run it effectively down there, it always helps what you're doing in the pass game."

The fact that players such as Julio Jones (foot surgery), Taylor Gabriel (lower leg), and Freeman (concussion) were banged up during the offseason and preseason kept the offense from working together as a whole as much as new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would have liked. Then new starting right guard Wes Schweitzer struggled in his first-ever regular season game last Sunday, disrupting the offense flow.

"Wes will be fine," Ryan said. "I think we all had a few plays that we'd like back in that game, for sure. Everybody -- Year 1 or Year 10 or first start. There's a few plays in every game you'd like to do differently. He had a lot of good plays, too."



Now the challenge will be attacking a Packers defense that looks different than the one Ryan and the Falcons faced in January. Green Bay showed off the "nitro" defense in last week's 17-9 win over the Seattle Seahawks. It allows the Packers to put faster personnel on the field, with safety Morgan Burnett being a key figure in moving down from safety to middle linebacker.

"I don't know what their nitro package is," Ryan said with a laugh. "I didn't know what they were calling it, but I've seen different personnel groupings from them where they've got five DBs in there, six DBs in there. They'll match them versus all personnel groupings. We've gotta be on top of our communication, for sure, on the offensive side of them ball, make sure we're identifying which personnel groupings are in there, make sure we're getting the right points in our run game and certainly in pass protection."

The Packers forced the Seahawks to go 0-for-2 in the red zone last week. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels played a big part in the shut out with his pressure and ability to stop the run inside the 20. If the Falcons can't find space to run or can't get Jones more involved, as desired, maybe screen plays to the likes of Tevin Coleman or Gabriel might work to their advantage near the end zone.




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