Falcons’ offense sputters with Arthur Smith, Matt Ryan at controls

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan comments on the loss to Philadelphia in season opener and what's next for team.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense, after a promising start, sputtered throughout the 32-6 loss to the Eagles on Sunday.

After scoring two field goals on the first two possessions, the offense punted on the next six possessions and had two more possession end with a turnover on downs. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was calling the plays.

Opening up the season without dynamic wide receiver Julio Jones for the first time since 2011, Ryan completed 21-of-35 passes for 164 yards and no touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 71.6 and was sacked three times.

The Falcons never advanced farther than the Philadelphia 49 and finished with just 260 yards.

The Falcons ran the football well, but had to get away from the run, once they fell behind 15-6 in the second quarter.

Anything that started clicking imploded under the weight of the 12 penalties for 99 yards.

“You certainly have to practice well, which I think we’ve been doing,” Ryan said. “I think our young guys played quite a bit throughout the (exhibition) season and every snap they take is going to be good for them as they move forward.”

Ryan said he believes the team can make a big jump from this game to Week 2. They almost have to since they are playing the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla.

“Even though it was a tough result today, I think there are some positives,” Ryan said. “I thought we started fine, came out and did some good things early, and have to be better when we get down in the red zone. And you can’t have penalties and things like that that kind of put us off schedule down there.”

Rookie Jalen Mayfield, who was playing left guard after being a right tackle in college, had a tough outing. He had two false-start penalties and got beat for two sacks late in the game.

“We’ve all been there,” Ryan said. “I remember my second game in the league we went down to Tampa and in the first half I was like 3-of-22, something like that. It might have been uglier than that, I’m not really sure. It happens.”

The Eagles played a lot of zone defense and forced the Falcons to throw the ball underneath.

Ryan targeted Calvin Ridley and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts eight times. Ridley caught five passes for 51 yards and Pitts caught four for 31 yards.

“I thought he did some good things for the first time,” Ryan said of Pitts. “We were kind of choppy in the passing game. So, I think that makes it difficult on guys. But really good catch on his seam route. Showed that he can catch the ball through contact, which is what you want.

“I think he’s only going to continue to get better for us. I think it’s good always as young players to have that first one under your belt, but I thought he did a good job for us.”

Ryan and Pitts were playing for the first time together. Ryan didn’t play in the exhibition season and Pitts only played two plays with backup quarterback Feleipe Franks.

However, Ryan wouldn’t attribute the “choppiness” of the passing attack to the lack of work in the exhibition games.

Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts makes a reception against a double team by Philadelphia Eagles defenders during the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

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Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

“I think it comes down to when you’re in known passing situations and you’re playing against a really good defensive front four and they can tee off and makes it difficult to stay in a rhythm,” Ryan said. “We were coming into it we had to be efficient first and second down. We had to stay in front of the chains and kind of hit in our spots and stay out of a lot of known passing situations.”

Once the Eagles knew the Falcons had to pass, they got to Ryan for three sacks.

The Falcons’ struggles in the red zone from last season followed the team to the season opener.

“You know what, sometimes that’s how the game shakes out,” Ryan said. “You expect yourself to be down there quite a bit. Small sample size today. I think we (have to) get down there more than we were, give ourselves more opportunities.”

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