Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is upended by Titans linebacker Jayon Brown Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

COVER 9@9: Falcons’ offense amassing empty yards

1. Koetter addresses the offense’s issues. The Falcons’ offense has played a major role in the slow start this season by not being productive on their opening drives.

On their first possessions the Falcons went three-and-out against Minnesota, got a 50-yard field against the Eagles, punted against the Colts after the drive stalled and had another three-and-out against the Titans.

Opening the game, while working off a script of plays, is one way to set the tone and jump-start the team. 

Back in 2012 under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons scored three touchdowns and had one three-and-out in their first four games of the season. They went 4-0 and were on their way to 8-0 and a 13-3 season. 

The revamped offensive line has been hit by injury and that’s been a factor. Also, the fact that the players don’t play in the exhibition season must not be overlooked.

“Overall, we are moving the ball between the 20s fine,” Koetter said. “I think seven of our drives got to their 39 or lower (against the Titans). When you get seven drives that far down you should come up with more than 10 points.”

The Falcons are probing for answers. 

“There were different reasons,” Koetter said. “We had a turnover. We had a couple of penalties. We had a sack. We had some drops. We had some plays where we should have changed the play call. There’s more than one thing.”

After the Titans scored, the Falcons answered with a touchdown drive, but then sputtered about as the Titans took a 17-7 lead. 

The Falcons had a promising drive going, but on fourth-and-1 from Tennessee’s 39-yard line. They got stuffed for a yard loss.  

“They ran a safety blitz into the play,” Koetter said. “We had a mix up in the blocking and their safety (Kenny Vaccaro) came off the edge. Our two guys ran into each other. We should have passed that off between the fullback and the receiver. They were both were trying to get the guy, but they both ended up blocking off each other. We had a little penetration on that play as well.”

A later fourth down pass attempt failed.

“We were anticipating a different coverage than what  we got,” Koetter said. “(Quarterback) Matt (Ryan) was trying to get through his progression. Matt would have had to make it all the way back to three in the progression and he just didn’t have time to get all the way back. That was a good job by the defense. They covered us pretty well on that play.”

The Falcons are amassing 382.2 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the league. The Falcons are passing for 312.5 yards, which is second in the league. The rushing attack is averaging 70.3 yards per game which is 27th in the league. 

Koetter believes the run numbers are poor because the Falcons have fallen behind and had to pass in three games. 

“Lack of attempts,” Koetter said. “We want to be a balanced team on first and second downs. In three of the four games we’ve been significantly behind in the second half and we’ve gotten away from our balance. That’s something that we have to get back to.” 

The offense must score touchdowns so the don’t fall behind.

“There are a combination of things,” Koetter said. “One is self-inflicted errors, that could be turnovers, penalties, sacks, drops or good plays by the defense. Those guys are the best at what they do as well. Poor execution on our part and anytime the execution doesn’t work, you’re going to question your play-calling.”  

2. Falcons trade for safety help: The Falcons, looking for safety help, traded linebacker Duke Riley to the Eagles for safety Johnathan Cyprien on Monday.

The Falcons also sent a sixth-round pick to the Eagles and received a seventh-round pick in return. 

Cyprien, 29, was drafted in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2013 draft by Jacksonville and has played in 74 games with 70 starts. Cyprien played for the Jaguars from 2013-16, Tennessee in 2017 and signed with the Eagles this offseason. 

Riley was drafted by the Falcons in the third-round of the 2017 draft. He played in 32 games and made 16 starts

The Falcons were in need of safety help after J.J. Wilcox (knee) and Keanu Neal (Achilles) were lost with season-ending injuries. 

Against the Titans, Kemal Ishmael took over for Neal in the base defense. In the nickel, Damontae Kazee went to free safety, Ricardo Allen went to strong safety, rookie Kendall Sheffield played nickel back and Ishmael came out. 

3. Watson show: Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the former Falcons’ ball boy from Gainesville High who went on to lead Clemson to a National Championship, has completed 82 of 126 passes (65.1 percent) for 938 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He has a passer rating of 99.9. 

Watson is coming off a weak game against the Panthers. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 160 yards and was sacked six times. 

Texans recap: The Texans were defeated by the Saints 30-28 to open the season. The posted consecutive wins over the Jaguars (13-12) and Los Angeles Chargers (27-20) before losing last week to Carolina (16-10) and backup quarterback Kyle Allen.

4. O’Brien corner: Houston coach Bill O’Brien was a former assistant coach at Georgia Tech. He was a graduate assistant (1995-97), running backs coach (1998-2000) and was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2001-02). 

5. Series history: The series is tied 2-2, with the home team winning all of the games. The Falcons won the last meeting with a 48-21 blowout on Oct. 4, 2015 at the Georgia Dome. 

6. Farewell to FalconsFiddy: The Falcons media relations staff is down one member as the affable Curtis Jackson, who went to Morehouse, recently joined the Los Angeles Clippers as their basketball communications manager. 

We all here at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wish him the best in this new endeavor. 

While a student at Morehouse, he wouldn’t take my Communications Law class at Clark Atlanta. He said I had a reputation for failing students and he didn’t like my attendance policy. 

Good luck working in The Association. 

7. Broadcast info:  - TV: Fox: Play-by-Play: Kenny Albert. Color Analysis: Ronde Barber. Sideline: Sara Walsh. —  Local Radio:  92.9 FM The Game — Play-by-Play: Wes Durham. Color Analyst: Dave Archer. Pre-game at 11 a.m. with Harry Douglas and Paul Crane. — National Radio: Sports USA — Play-by-Play: Josh Appel.  Color Analysis: Brandon Noble.

8. Hometown Huddle:  For the 12th year in a row, Falcons players spent time on their day off engaging with the Atlanta community on Tuesday. Players went to one of 10 different locations including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, where players will package food for the homeless, and the Barack & Michelle Obama Academy, where players went classroom to classroom to surprise teachers and students.

9. Depth chart: Cyprien is listed second at strong safety behind Kemal Ishmael on the official depth chart released on Tuesday. 

Here’s the official depth chart for the Texans’ game:


WR 11 Julio Jones, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel 
LG 68 77 James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 68 Jamon Brown, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 73 Matt Gono 
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 38 Kenjon Barner, 23 Brian Hill, 32 Qadree Ollison
FB 40 Keith Smith


DE 98 Takkarist McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky
DE 44 Vic Beasley
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Jermaine Grace
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Kendall Sheffield
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
SS 36 Kemal Ishmael, 32 Johnathan Cyprien, 35 Jamal Carter 


K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher, Matt Bryant
P 5 Matt Bosher, (Mohamed Sanu)
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
KOR 38 Kenjon Barner
PR Kenjon Barner, (Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy in practice)

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.