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Cowboys @ Falcons: The Atlanta offense is struggling to turn production into points

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Atlanta certainly isn’t the same team they were one year ago.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons were an offensive juggernaut last season on their way to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Quarterback Matt Ryan was the league MVP, Julio Jones and the running backs ran up gaudy statistics; it was a magical season if it wasn’t for that little hiccup of blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl.

Fast forward to this year and things aren’t quite the same. The Falcons offense has been held to under 20 points in four games this year. They have lost four of their last five games and scored 17 points in their two recent home losses.

The interesting part is that their volume stats aren’t that bad, they are sixth in overall yards per game, and Matt Ryan is sixth in passing percentage and yards per attempt. The big problem for Atlanta is they are not turning that production into points, they are 17th in points scored per game (21.3).

You can find an army of Falcons’ fans who point to one reason for this fall off, the change from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian. Shanahan is now the head coach in San Francisco and Sarkisian is receiving a lot of blame. This from our sister blog, The Falcoholic.

Not only does [Sarkisian] lack understanding of his personnel, his playcalling is complete trash. There is no creativity and the offense has become a predictable vanilla mess. The outside zone runs are gone, as are the packages and natural rub routes that allowed the Falcons offense to get the match-ups they wanted in 2016. Sark claims that he’s running the same offense—maybe he is, but if so it’s the kindergarten version.

Ouch.

The Falcons running game, a formidable duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, has a good yards-per-attempt number, but the Falcons choose to pass a lot more than they run. Last week they got repeatedly stuffed in short-yardage situations by the Panthers, and there is widespread belief that Sarkisian is not putting his backs in the best position to succeed.

The passing offense has also slowed in terms of points. Julio Jones has only one touchdown catch all year. Yes, just one! He still catches the ball for a ton of yards per game, but they just don’t score as often as they should.

One issue is they turn the ball over more than last year. Ryan had 10 turnovers all season in 2016, this year he already has eight. Overall they are -4 in turnover differential. To add to that misery, one statistical site has the Falcons with the third-most dropped passes in the league. Last week, Jones dropped a wide-open touchdown against the Panthers.

The Falcons have really fallen off in converting third downs. Over their last three games they are 11-for-35 on third down attempts. And against the Panthers last week they were 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts.

Stat Corner Falcons Offense

—- Sixth in overall yards per game (372), sixth in passing yards per game (257.5), 13th in rushing yards per game (114.5), 17th in points scored per game (21.3)

—- 14th in third-down conversions (40%), sixth in completion % (65.6%), sixth in yards per passing attempt (8.0), 18th passing TDs (11), 14th in passer rating (92.8)

—- 4th in yards per rushing attempt (4.6), tied for 22nd in rushing attempts

Conclusion

The Falcons still have an array of dangerous weapons, but the man calling the plays can’t seem to get them all to click this year. They still are a good running team based on their yards per carry, but for some reason they don’t stick with it, ranking 22nd in average attempts per game. This year, it looks like teams should wait for the Falcons to make their own mistakes through dropped passes, turnovers or curious play-calling by sitting back and avoiding the big plays. The Cowboys generally like to sit back and force teams to execute drives that have plenty of plays for short yards. They want to make opposition teams pick up multiple third downs on a drive, something the Falcons are struggling with. If Dallas can sit back on defense and get pressure on Ryan with their front four, it could be a long day for the Falcons offense.