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Dissecting the Falcons’ offensive issues (by the numbers): From the notebook - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic

 

In the moments that immediately followed the Falcons’ first loss to the New Orleans Saints three weeks ago, Matt Ryan said the Falcons’ offense stalled so many times because it was not playing well enough on first down. He said the Falcons need to be more efficient in early downs to get deeper into drives. He added that the offense always looks better when it gets six to eight plays into a drive.

Last week, Ryan had the same thought when asked about the keys to potentially getting the upper hand offensively in the second game against the Saints.

“I do believe that we have to be productive on first and second down this week,” Ryan said on Wednesday.

Maybe that’s why I wrote that quote down word-for-word at the top of my notebook Sunday when I got to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the game. Maybe that’s why I kept circling moments when the Falcons didn’t perform well enough on first and second downs. Maybe that’s why I was glad I did all of this because when the game ended and the Falcons were 5-for-13 on third downs and 1-of-4 in the red zone, I could tell you all on Monday what the problem was.

I am about to throw a lot of numbers your way, but if you stick with me I promise we’ll get some answers.

First half (six possessions, 30 plays)

First-down plays: Five runs, eight passes

Second-down plays: One run, nine passes (four were incompletions, and one was a tackle for loss)

Third-and-long (more than 6 yards to go): Five

Note: Younghoe Koo’s 28-yard field goal at the end of the half was also counted here for context because it came on third-and-10.

Third-and-medium (between 4 and 6 yards to go): Two

Third and short (fewer than 3 yards to go): One

The main issue: The Falcons had too many meaningless second-down plays. They were at the very least consistently getting a few yards on first down, even getting good chunks of yardage on a few plays. But between incompletions and dropped passes on second down the Falcons put themselves in too many third-and-medium or third-and-long situations. This is what led to three three-and-outs in their first four drives. It’s what led to a 29 percent conversion rate on third down. It was the main reason behind the offense’s lack of production in the first half.

Second half (six possessions, 33 plays)

Total first-down plays: Eight runs, eight passes

Total second-down plays: Three runs, seven passes (four were incompletions, and two were sacks)

Third and long (more than 6 yards to go): Two

Third and medium (between 4 and 6 yards to go): Zero

Third and short (fewer than 3 yards to go): Three

Note: Todd Gurley’s 2-yard run followed by an unnecessary roughness call on CJ Gardner-Johnson is also counted here for context because it came on third-and-1.

The main issue: The Falcons actually had a little bit more success running the ball on first down in the second half. Not much, but a little and particularly in the fourth quarter surprisingly. This afforded them more opportunities for short-yardage downs that they could convert at a higher rate. They were able to string together a couple more drives because of it. But the continued thorn in the Falcons’ side was the issue producing on second down, particularly through the air. There was a direct correlation between the Falcons’ success (or better yet, lack thereof) on second down and how they produced as an offensive unit on Sunday.

What the coaches had to say

On Monday, I asked interim coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the same question:

I went back and charted the game. I counted 20 total second-down plays, and 16 were pass plays. Only five were successful in creating positive yardage. How do you think issues on second down yesterday affected the overall production of the offense?

“It’s really a common issue when you’re talking about your pass-down situations and really going out there and being productive. You like to be productive in some of those pass-down situations so you can eliminate some of those third downs especially against a really good defense like the Saints. When you go out and you have some of the explosive plays that we had a lot of yesterday, had 10 just amongst Calvin (Ridley) and Julio (Jones) themselves, getting some of those explosives you’d like to get some of those on second downs situations to make some of those drives easier. When you have tough sledding on second down, you’re pretty much going to account for yourself having tough sledding on third down. That’s when some of those things become extremely and definitely important.”  Morris

“Any downs where you’re not making yardage affects the production of the offense. We actually group our downs into first-and-10 and second-and-1-to-6s, and we try to be as balanced as we can in that group of plays which in normal games makes up about 40 percent of the overall game, first-and-10s and second-and-one-to-sixes. But again, any play you’re not making yardage, it’s definitely affecting you.”  Koetter

Well, yeah.

 

 

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And sometimes you just got to sling it if you're MR. I noticed this a lot over the weekend with QBs on other teams (Mahomes was a master at this and Seattle usually is too). They just went medium to deep passes outside any time there was one on one and the offense was in a bad down and distance situation. The WR was rarely open, but in putting the ball over the WR's shoulder to the outside drew a PI in many situations.

I think this could be coached up as well. In tight coverage, the WR can almost intentionally entangle himself with the arms of the defender who is almost never looking back for the ball. Other teams seem to do this intentionally and it works a lot. Or I'm seeing something that wasn't really there, but I don't believe I was.

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8 minutes ago, celtiksage said:

And sometimes you just got to sling it if you're MR. I noticed this a lot over the weekend with QBs on other teams (Mahomes was a master at this and Seattle usually is too). They just went medium to deep passes outside any time there was one on one and the offense was in a bad down and distance situation. The WR was rarely open, but in putting the ball over the WR's shoulder to the outside drew a PI in many situations.

I think this could be coached up as well. In tight coverage, the WR can almost intentionally entangle himself with the arms of the defender who is almost never looking back for the ball. Other teams seem to do this intentionally and it works a lot. Or I'm seeing something that wasn't really there, but I don't believe I was.

There's the QB, the coverage and the receiver. 

Receivers shouldn't be waiting on the ball to come to them. They need to make a play on the ball. The QB needs to trust his receiver and put the ball where they can catch it. The coverage is the in-between. No one is ever always open. 

Matt doesn't have trust in something in the process. He is a rhythm passer. He wants to put the ball where his receiver has the best chance of catching it. In the Shanahan days he put the ball where is receiver was supposed to be and it was caught. That was a thing of beauty. Right now that isn't how the offense is working. It's easy to blame Matt because he is the QB. But there are so many things going wrong, the line, the receivers, the backs. No one would be successful in the mess that is this offense right now. 

Mahomes is slinging into tight windows but that doesn't last forever. You need to scheme guys open. Defenses do catch up.

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I can agree with that. And I certainly wasn't putting any/all the blame on MR.

No doubt our OC situation is unrecoverable at this point.

I just thought I noticed Mahomes and and at least one other QB throwing to some receivers with the intention of drawing a PI and not expecting a completion. Seems like that could be schemed in the right situation.

You're also right about rhythm passes that MR was always great at but which we rarely see in this offense now. We need a lot more of that but I don't expect to see it in the near future.

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40 minutes ago, E. T. said:

Although the mix of runs and pass are ok, it's the actual script of the plays that are so bland. Nothing creative, no element of misdirection or motions/play-action. We're not fooling anybody with a descent defense to take advantage of 1st or 2nd downs!

 

I agree. There is so much more to blame here than run/pass dynamics. Koetter's plays are particularly long developing, and it appears that the short developing plays are so vanilla they're ineffective, if not virtually non-existent as infrequently as we see them rolled out. NFC South defenses know what is coming. Koetter has no ability to adjust his plays with anything effective. 

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Balance doesn’t have to be 50/50 anymore.  Balance also isn’t just saying they passed 60%, but what level did that pass.  Making them adjust and keep guessing is the whole point.  If you entire passing game is designed for the same depth of routes, and they know that, it’s not going to work. Balance anymore is run, short throws (0-10), intermediate (10-20), and deep (20+).  I don’t know what the magical number is, as it greatly depends on scheme and personnel, but I feel like too often we look at just pass vs run, and even at a perfect 50/50 balance you can have a very unbalanced offense if your pass game isn’t switching it up too.

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24 minutes ago, Jesus said:

There's the QB, the coverage and the receiver. 

Receivers shouldn't be waiting on the ball to come to them. They need to make a play on the ball. The QB needs to trust his receiver and put the ball where they can catch it. The coverage is the in-between. No one is ever always open. 

Matt doesn't have trust in something in the process. He is a rhythm passer. He wants to put the ball where his receiver has the best chance of catching it. In the Shanahan days he put the ball where is receiver was supposed to be and it was caught. That was a thing of beauty. Right now that isn't how the offense is working. It's easy to blame Matt because he is the QB. But there are so many things going wrong, the line, the receivers, the backs. No one would be successful in the mess that is this offense right now. 

Mahomes is slinging into tight windows but that doesn't last forever. You need to scheme guys open. Defenses do catch up.

I agree with the fact that Ryan is not trusting his eyes but I don't blame him. They were all over our plays last weekend. There were times that I felt like the DB ran the route better than our WR. I didn't see a lot of opportunities to throw guys open.

You can see how it impacting the players too. It is frustrating as a player to bust your butt week in and out but be held back by Koetter. I wish we would have fired him just like the Jets fired Gregg Williams. Greg Williams had one bad play call. Koetter has sucked for the entire season.

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25 minutes ago, Jpg428gggg said:

I agree with the fact that Ryan is not trusting his eyes but I don't blame him. They were all over our plays last weekend. There were times that I felt like the DB ran the route better than our WR. I didn't see a lot of opportunities to throw guys open.

You can see how it impacting the players too. It is frustrating as a player to bust your butt week in and out but be held back by Koetter. I wish we would have fired him just like the Jets fired Gregg Williams. Greg Williams had one bad play call. Koetter has sucked for the entire season.

I agree. He is one of the more cerebral QBs in the game. He's overthinking out there trying to make things happen. No one succeeds in football when they over think things 

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First, instead of being a "db" right outta the gate let me say the Falcons performed significantly better game 2 v game 1 against the Saints.  O was better, D was better.  

One consistent quality in every game we have won compared to every game we lose, sturdy, stout and steadfast refusal to rush.  That's our offensive Achilles heel.  

It's a crux because any coach with a smartphone can see that we 1) only pass and 2) only pass to Ridley and Jones.  OK, when they are sparking with Ryan it's a productive game.  But as a DC with a tablet on the sidelines wouldn't your job be a piece of cake if you knew your secondary and your OLBs only needed to cover 2 guys?  It's a walk in the park to prepare to defend our offense.  My mom could do it.  Your mom could do it.  Dan Quinn could do it.  You have potentially up to 6 defenders you can assign to watch 2 receivers.  Check the stat cards if you doubt it.  

That's why it burns me so much when there's a house sized gap on 3rd and 1 and Ryan won't take a 7' walk to the line to gain because coach said it's a pass play so that means I have to pass it and Julio isn't open so I'll just toss it out of bounds and punt.  

Our offense doesn't have issues.  It has issue.  

Our air game to Ridley and Jones is great.  If that was all we needed to win we'd be winning.

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2 hours ago, E. T. said:

Although the mix of runs and pass are ok, it's the actual script of the plays that are so bland. Nothing creative, no element of misdirection or motions/playaction. We're not fooling anybody with a descent defense to take advantage of 1st or 2nd downs!

 

Exactly. It's not so much run or pass on which downs, it's the fact this offense is as bland and predictable as the daily rain forecast for Death Valley.  We run the most simple-minded, predictable offensive game plans in the NFL despite having some of the most talented and intelligent skill players of any team. The weak link on this team is Derp Krapbrains. Sadly, he gets to continue going Full Moron for another four games before the insanity will end.

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26 minutes ago, PokerSteve said:

Exactly. It's not so much run or pass on which downs, it's the fact this offense is as bland and predictable as the daily rain forecast for Death Valley.  We run the most simple-minded, predictable offensive game plans in the NFL despite having some of the most talented and intelligent skill players of any team. The weak link on this team is Derp Krapbrains. Sadly, he gets to continue going Full Moron for another four games before the insanity will end.

Even worse....he takes no blame, makes no adjustments, and wants more execution. There's something totally bi-polar with this guy! 

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4 hours ago, E. T. said:

Although the mix of runs and pass are ok, it's the actual script of the plays that are so bland. Nothing creative, no element of misdirection or motions/playaction. We're not fooling anybody with a descent defense to take advantage of 1st or 2nd downs!

 

Its funny, I was watching the Bills/SF game last night and saw a play that made me say "why havent we done that with Hurst"? It was a fake screen to the rb out in the left flat with Dawson Knox (TE) sneaking behind the line from left to right for an easy swing pass TD. Basically faked the screen left to the rb and threw it back to the screen on the right to the TE.

Perfect play for Hurst and his skill set but lets just constantly send him to the back of the endzone or a quick slant....

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The ball needs to get out Ryan’s hands quicker. The time consuming route trees only work when there is time for the QB to sit in the pocket. For the Falcons, only when an effective run game is working can the play action pass provide that needed time. Lacking a run game, crossers & rub routes should be the mainstay in the 1st half offense. Keep drives alive and dink and dunk your way downfield and protect exposing our defense. I hope the next regime will be more open to building the defense along with running an offense that fits the personnel. GO FALCONS!

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