Falcons in the Red Zone: Breaking down a breakdown

AP Photo/John Bazemore
AP Photo/John Bazemore

Take a good look at the picture on the right — it’s a rare sighting of an Atlanta Falcon in the end zone!

It’s been a well-publicized problem that the Falcons can’t score a touchdown when they get inside an opponent’s 20-yard-line, known as the Red Zone. Through four games, the Falcons have scored touchdowns on just seven of 18 trips into the Red Zone, according to Mark Bradley of AJC.com. Over the last two weeks, they’ve only scored three touchdowns in 11 trips inside the 20.

So what in the world is going on?

A breakdown this colossal is usually due to many problems, and that’s surely true with the Falcons. Let’s look at each area of the offense, and what they’re doing wrong.

The offensive line

Let’s be honest — the Falcons’ offensive line sucks. They’ve gotten better since Week 1, sure, but they’re not good at stopping people, and their competition is only going to get better when teams like the Panthers and Seahawks come calling. It’s been common to see Atlanta’s linemen whiff on blocks, and when the team is in the Red Zone, giving the quarterback an extra second to make a clean, hard throw makes all the difference. That’s not happening with these blockers in the Red Zone. Quarterback Matt Ryan is constantly on the run, usually in the wrong direction. How is he supposed to be successful like that?

Matt Ryan

Granted, he’s usually running for his life, but Matt Ryan throws the ball away too much in the Red Zone. I know three points is better than nothing, but it hasn’t paid off to play it safe and throw the ball through the end zone and into the third row of the stands if there’s no wide-open receiver on the field. Besides, doesn’t he have two of the best receivers at making tough catches in traffic in Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez? Make the balls catchable, and give Gonzalez a chance to make one of those incredible catches 12 feet off the ground with two defenders draped all over him. You have Hall-of-Fame receivers, now use them.

Running backs

Where are these guys on plays inside the 20? I’m not talking about running plays — they’re clearly not very efficient on the ground in these situations — I’m more worried about what they’re doing on passing plays. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to run them on short routes after they roll off a block? It would take a few bodies out of an end zone that’s clearly clogged with five receivers running routes in it, so why not try something different? Give them a chance to make a play or at least block. They’re useless running a route into the end zone.

The Receivers

Harry Douglas is much better with a lot of field to work with, and Roddy White is definitely still too injured to show off his world-class route-running abilities. So why not get them the heck out of the way and let Jones and Gonzalez do the heavy lifting in the Red Zone? Jones is great at jumping through the roof on high passes, but the Falcons should give him a chance to run a short slant into the end zone. His large frame would box out defenders and his great hands would be able to hold on for the touchdown. There have to be other options in the Red Zone when the defense sells out to defend Gonzalez, and the Falcons need to find them soon before the 2013 season is a total wash.

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