Falcons’ offense sees poor results in rematch with Saints

Not a whole lot changed.

When the teams played against each other the first time two weeks ago, the Saints defense seemingly had every Falcons offensive play and route figured out. And in the first meeting, the Saints were without cornerback Marshon Lattimore. This time, during the Saints’ 21-16 win over the Falcons, Lattimore was available but cornerback Janoris Jenkins was out.

Regardless of personnel, it didn’t matter as the Saints’ secondary had the Falcons’ offense figured out yet again. For seven combined quarters over two games, the Falcons were unable to score a touchdown. And in this game, the Saints won the time of possession battle by 13:48. In two games against the Saints, the Falcons’ defense has been off the field for an average of 22 minutes.

The Saints proved to be a tough foe for the Falcons’ offense and an opponent the defense was forced to do more against.

“I’m expecting to play like that now,” Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “I think the defense has the mentality now that if the offense does well it’s a plus. But we’re going to be expecting to go out there and play all game. I think that does well for our defense, that we adopted that mentality, and not putting everything on the offense so they can just ball out.”

Credit: AJC

Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun on the play of the defense against the Saints and their plan to stop Taysom Hill.

The Falcons entered Sunday’s rematch with seemingly some added confidence following the blowout 43-6 win over Las Vegas last week. But once again, the Falcons had zero answer for a Saints defense that has emerged into one of the best in the NFL.

On offense, it was more of the same from the last game. Rarely did a receiver separate from a defensive back. When receivers ran routes in the flat or over the short middle, a Saints’ defender was near. Most of quarterback Matt Ryan’s throws happened to go toward targets who were either well covered or had a Saints’ player nearby.

The lone difference in this game came down to the final three offensive series, which saw quarterback Matt Ryan pad his stats in catch-up mode. Although Ryan ended with 273 yards, he only completed 19 of 39 throws. Through the first three quarters he only completed 12 of 27 passes for 149 yards. Whatever adjustments offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had for the Falcons didn’t work as the Saints continued to take away much of the passing game.

And the rushing attack — a combined 21 carries for 70 yards — was nearly nonexistent.

“We certainly didn’t play good enough,” Ryan said. “We needed to be more productive, particularly in the first half this week. We walked away with too many field goals and not enough touchdowns. It’s disappointing any time you play like that. Hopefully we can be better next week.”

If not for the Falcons’ late surge, which actually put them in position to possibly win the game, the offensive output was almost a carbon copy of the game from two weeks ago. Just like in the first meeting, the Falcons stalled on three offensive drives and settled for field goals from place-kicker Younghoe Koo, who netted a 53-yarder on one of his attempts. The third quarter resulted in two Falcons’ punts.

Saints defensive end Carl Granderson knocks the ball out for a turnover as he hammers Matt Ryan during the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Saints had a chance to put the game away following a lost Ryan fumble but Saints quarterback Taysom Hill gave the ball back after losing his own fumble in the fourth quarter. It was then that the Falcons drove down with the field, with Ryan eventually finding receiver Russell Gage for a 10-yard touchdown. But even that drive was aided by 20 yards on three Saints penalties.

But when the Falcons got down to the Saints’ 21-yard line on their ensuing drive with just over two minutes to go in the game, they called three runs to running back Todd Gurley, who totaled 8 yards on the plays. The third-and-2 that resulted in a loss of 7 yards proved to be the most questionable call on the drive.

“It’s a chess match,” receiver Julio Jones said. “They give us looks and we check, then we get in another play … that’s the chess match situation. We have to build those plays. If they do switch out and give us the look we want we can take advantage of that a little better.”

The Falcons’ offense ended up getting the ball back with 27 seconds to go. A late desperation pass fell incomplete as time expired.

With the issues the Falcons had on offense in both games against the Saints, Jones was asked if the offense has become predictable.

“I don’t know. That’s my call on that,” Jones said. “It’s a unit together on that. We have to get in there and look. I don’t know if we’re predictable or not. We have calls, we make calls, things like that. Who knows? We just have to see tomorrow.”

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris admitted his team failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented its way. Against a team like the Saints, Morris said coming away with three field goals and zero touchdowns in the first half is not going to be enough.

“We talked about this, we have to go down and score touchdowns when we’re given the opportunity,” Morris said. “Koo has been money for us, there’s no doubt about that. But when you play a team like this, you have to get the ball in your favor, get some points, get it going, not let them be as one-dimensional (defensively) as they want to be. The play-action pass, being able to run the football, that will allow you to control it all the way to the end there.”