Falcons have never started 0-2 with Matt Ryan at quarterback

Whatever their issues - preparation, defensive scheme, offensive play-calling, tighter coverage in the secondary or five missed tackles - the Falcons must fix them quickly or risk falling into the 0-2 NFL hole.

The Falcons (0-1) are set to face the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Falcons lost at home to Seattle in last week’s season opener.

A 0-2 start more often than not means a ticket to the top of the NFL draft.

Since 2007, 107 teams have started 0-2 and only 12 (11.2%) of them have turned it around to make the playoffs and only two teams (2008 Chargers and 2019 Steelers) made it to .500 at 8-8. Ten other teams posted better than 8-8 records, including the Texans, who finished 11-5 in 2018.

Last season, nine teams started 0-2 and none of them made the playoffs, dropping the percent from 12.2% to 11.2%.

In 2019, Cincinnati (2-14), Washington (3-13), the New York Giants (4-12), Carolina (5-11), Miami (5-11), Jacksonville (6-10), the New York Jets ( 7-9), Denver (7-9) and Pittsburgh (8-8) all started the season 0-2.

For the Giants, it was their third consecutive 0-2 start, and they elected to move on from long-time quarterback Eli Manning. Daniel Jones took over for their third game.

The Falcons dodged the 0-2 start last season with a dramatic win over Philadelphia. After pulling to 1-1, they lost their next six games. The Falcons avoided the 0-2 start in 2018 with a win over Carolina after a season-opening loss to the Eagles.

With quarterback Matt Ryan at the controls, the Falcons have never opened the season 0-2. The last time the Falcons started 0-2 was in 2007 under coach Bobby Petrino. That team started 0-3 on the way to a 3-13 finish.

Ryan believes his teams have not fallen to 0-2 because they adjusted quickly by finishing plays, paid attention to details and took advantage of their red-zone opportunities.

Last season, the Falcons needed an electrifying touchdown run by wide receiver Julio Jones on a screen pass to pull out a win over the Eagles in the fourth quarter.

“I’m very impressed with the Falcons' offense,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously, it started out with the run-pass mix, their explosive and their big-play production. You can’t say enough about (wide receivers) Calvin (Ridley) and Julio (Jones) and the numbers they put up in Week 1.”

McCarthy was not surprised that the Falcons haven’t had an 0-2 start since Ryan arrived in the 2008 season.

“I’m a fan of Matt’s,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s done a great job.”

Ryan is on his second head coach, his fourth offensive coordinator (second stint by Dirk Koetter) and third offensive system.

“Any time that a quarterback has system changes and he keeps playing at a high level, it speaks volumes,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, he looks very, very comfortable in Dirk’s scheme. His ability to make all of the throws, all of the checks and he plays with great anticipation with ball placement. He’s a veteran and established quarterback, who’s playing at a high level with excellent weapons.”

Ryan is coming of a 450-yard passing game, with most of it coming after the Falcons went down 28-12. He moved past Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway into ninth place on the NFL’s all-time passing yards list.

Ryan has 51,636 career passing yards and is behind Ben Roethlisberger (56,774). Elway, who won two Super Bowl titles and is the general manager of the Denver Broncos, passed for 51,475 yards in his career (1983-98).

The challenge for Ryan against Dallas is to make the plays and score touchdowns while the game is competitive. He’ll also have to do it against former Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who is Dallas' defensive coordinator.

“Mike Nolan is doing a great job,” McCarthy said. “He’s put together a really good system and a package that does a good job of featuring our players. It gives them the opportunity to make plays in the scheme. It’s fundamentally sound.”

Nolan and Koetter were the Falcons' coordinators from 2012-14 on Mike Smith’s final three staffs.

In addition to playing Nolan’s defense, the Falcons will play in front of fans for the first time. The Cowboys will allow up to 40,000 fans into the stadium during the coronavirus pandemic.

Quinn was not sure if the fans will give the Cowboys a competitive advantage.

"I don’t have an idea of how many fans they will have, but just that energy in the building alone, I think that’s a good thing,” Quinn said.

The Falcons' defense started out strong, but eventually collapsed under the pinpoint passing or Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in the opener.

The aftermath was not pretty.

The coaching staff, mostly defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, tried to take the blame for Wilson completing 31 of 35 passes. The secondary was not within a yard on any of the 35 pass attempts.

But the Falcons coaching staff doesn’t want to overreact after a mostly flat performance in the opener.

“Yeah, I think what you first look at is an after-action,” Quinn said. "You want to find out what went well. What were the things that you were pleased with because obviously leading up into something there are a number of things that you’re trying to work on.

“Then, you get right into, ‘What are the things that you want to improve upon?’ Then, what’s the action you can take to do those? There’s not a long list of things, but the ones that you want to emphasize as part of our pre-practice work, as part of our in-practice work.”

Houston and Seattle rebounded to reach the playoffs in 2018. New Orleans in 2017, Miami in 2016, Houston and Seattle in 2015, Indianapolis in 2014, Carolina in 2013, Miami, San Diego and Minnesota in 2008, and the 2007 New York Giants are the only others to rebound. The 2007 Giants are the only team to rebound and move on to win the Super Bowl.

The Falcons know their issues, and that they must strike the right balance in some difficult times or drop to 0-2.


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