Through the first two games of the 2016 season, you’d need at least two hands to count all the Atlanta Falcons’ glaring problems, but quarterback Matt Ryan has not been one of those liabilities.
Ryan’s hard offseason work with his receivers has paid off: after two games, he’s second in the entire league in passing. His 365 passing yards per game is just one yard behind Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for best in the league, and his 121.4 passer rating is No. 1 in the NFL. He’s completing 72.6 percent of his passes – and he’s throwing the ball a lot – which is better than all quarterbacks not named “Manning.”
But amid all those early-season successes, there’s a massive failure that still hasn’t been corrected: the Falcons’ offense remains pretty lousy in the red zone.
Once this team gets inside its opponent’s 20-yard-line, something happens. Apparently gravity is different in that part of the field, because meltdowns from the Atlanta offense seem inevitable. They’ve had 10 trips into the red zone this season and have only scored touchdowns on four of them. They’re ranked No. 25 out of 32 teams in red-zone offense, and their success is actually down from last season; they scored touchdowns on 55 percent of red zone trips in 2015.
It started early in the second quarter of Sunday’s 35-28 win over the Oakland Raiders. With a first-and-10 from the Raiders’ 11, the Falcons opted to run the ball twice and throw short of the first-down marker on third down. They settled for a field goal having not once thrown the ball into the end zone. They marched all the way down the field from their own 9-yard-line to settle for three points.
In the third quarter, it got even worse. With the Falcons down 14-13, they took the ball 64 yards on three plays in their first drive of the second half, all the way down to the Raiders’ 11-yard-line. On the next play, Ryan threw an interception.
Give them credit – the Falcons scored touchdowns on three of their other four trips into the red zone on Sunday, and 50 percent is a big improvement from the first game, when they converted just once in four trips. Still, the Falcons are about to embark on one of the toughest four-game stretches any NFL team will face this year, so if they’re going to make it out of the next month with anything better than a 1-5 record, they have to score no fewer than six points when they get into the red zone.
As we saw on Sunday, Ryan has a slew of weapons that he’ll make better as the season goes on, and the addition of a rushing game made this offense even more productive. At some points of Sunday’s game, the offense looked really good, but they’ll need to put it all together much faster in the coming games, as they’ll face opponents that will put them away quickly if they have any stumbles at all.Follow @Sean_Breslin