Falcons seek to fix short-yardage issues against Jaguars

Falcons running back Qadree Ollison is leveled at the line of scrimmage by New England Patriots defensive lineman Christian Barmore during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Caption
Falcons running back Qadree Ollison is leveled at the line of scrimmage by New England Patriots defensive lineman Christian Barmore during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Falcons have been getting stuffed in short-yardage situations.

In their 25-0 shutout loss to the Patriots on Nov. 18, the Falcons were thwarted twice late in the third quarter while trying to rally from a 13-0 deficit. Against the Saints on Nov. 7, they were stuffed on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.

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The Falcons (4-6) will need to convert in short-yardage situations to help get their offense back on track when they face Jacksonville (2-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.

At the Patriots’ 16, fullback Keith Smith was running behind right guard Chris Lindstrom when he was stopped for no gain on third down by linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Adrian Phillips.

Undaunted, the Falcons went for it again.

On fourth down, running back Qadree Ollison, running behind left guard Jalen Mayfield, was stuffed for no gain by Phillips and defensive end Carl Davis.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith cited multiple factors for the team’s recent short-yardage failures.

“You look at it like the ones the other night, the defense has a say in it, too,” Smith said. “And other times, I always thought the outliers, it doesn’t matter what you call, sometimes you just got a great player, and they’re just going to make a play.”

Smith was asked after both games why he didn’t simply run a quarterback sneak. He discussed that plays are “packaged” and quarterback Matt Ryan had options. However, center Matt Hennessy hasn’t been getting much of a push, which could have taken the quarterback sneak out of consideration.

Another factor is the offensive line’s inability to move the defensive line.

“When you get in there, and you run a simple play, whatever happens, happens,” Smith said. “You don’t execute something on the perimeter and then maybe that stops you. Or they throw a different look at you, somebody gets beat up front; there’s a lot of things that attribute to it.”

Ryan would like to convert those opportunities to keep potential scoring drives alive.

“I think when you get short-yardage opportunities, even in a tough game, like we had the other night, third-and-1, fourth-and-1, that game can shake out very different,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to find a way to be better in those type of situations that are critical. You always go back to your fundamentals when you’re looking to clean things up. I think we can be better across the board fundamentally. I think that’s what’s going to help us.”

One way to improve the situation is to stay out of short-yardage situations with longer runs. The Falcons don’t have many runs over 10 yards or more.

“You’d like to get them,” Ryan said. “That’s what we’re working towards. Create chunk runs. Makes it difficult on a defense. It opens up things in play-action pass, it helps slow down a pass rush.”

The offense could receive a boost from the return of leading rusher Cordarelle Patterson (ankle), who was limited in practice Wednesday. He could break some big runs.

“It does a lot of those things,” Ryan said. “We haven’t done it up till this point as well as we would like. But I really believe if we keep working on it, they’re going to come.”

Running back Mike Davis, who finished the game with one yard rushing on three carries, wants to be better, especially in short-yardage situations.

“Eventually it’ll pop,” Davis said. “We just have to focus on the details, there’s one guy here, one guy there.”

On the season, Davis has 91 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown. He acknowledges he can be better in short-yardage situations by simply doing his job.

“We just have to focus more and lock in,” Davis said. “No more second-guessing. It happens when you’re getting one yard here or two yards there, you get to a point where you force things. At that point, you just have to focus in and trust and believe eventually it’s going to pop.”

Getting moving in short-yardage situations will be key to help the offense, which hasn’t score a touchdown over its past 26 possessions.

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