Falcons great on offense but ask: ‘How much better can we get?’

The Falcons have the best offense in the NFL. They are efficient, explosive, versatile and at times nearly unstoppable.

Yet when coach Dan Quinn, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and players say the offense can be better, they aren’t just guarding against complacency. As many eye-popping numbers as the Falcons have produced on offense, they really haven’t reached their full potential.

“We feel like there is a lot for us that we can improve upon and, honestly, that’s where our focus is right now as opposed to a stat line we are trying to go for in a big way,” Quinn said. “We say, ‘How much better can we get?’”

It’s all relative, to be sure. Through Week 9 the Falcons are at or near the top of the league in several offensive categories.

The Falcons rank No. 1 in yards gained per drive, play, pass, and game. Football Outsiders data shows that no team in the NFL scores as many touchdowns per drive or points per drive. The Falcons rank seventh in fewest turnovers per drive.

Big plays have been abundant for the Falcons. Only three teams have a higher percentage of plays that went for 10 yards or more rushing and 25 yards or more passing.

“When you have those kind of explosives and you take care of the ball, usually you are going to have success,” Quinn said.

Yet the Falcons still leave a lot of potential points on the field.

There are 13 NFL teams that have scored more points per red-zone possession than the Falcons, and 16 have scored more touchdowns per red-zone possession. The Falcons rank No. 20 in converting touchdowns in goal-to-goal situations. They rank No. 10 in third-down conversion and 15th in red-zone touchdown percentage.

The Falcons are working to improve in those last two categories in particular.

“It gets harder on third down; it gets harder in the red zone,” Shanahan said. “Numbers-wise, we are not as good in those areas as we are in every other area, so you want to improve. The thing is executing, not hurting ourselves. You eliminate penalties in the red zone, you eliminate turnovers in the red zone, you will be better. Same with third down.”

Quinn said that instead of focusing on statistics, the Falcons look for ways in which they can execute the fundamentals better.

With runs, Quinn said those areas include combination blocks by offensive linemen (double-teaming a defender before one lineman releases to block a linebacker) and perimeter blocks by wide receivers. The Falcons rank 22nd in sacks allowed per pass attempt, and Quinn said they focus on the finer points of pass protection by linemen.

“Our balance can get even stronger in terms of our ability to run it and (pass),” Quinn said. “Having a real awareness in third down, especially on third down, to convert there. And then just continuing to attack in the red zone for touchdowns as opposed to field goals.”

Quinn and Shanahan said a stronger run game would help — the Falcons rank 12th in yards per rush overall, and they’ve had particularly a tough time running it in the red zone. That’s probably why Shanahan had wide receiver Taylor Gabriel run a sweep last week against the Buccaneers (he scored a 9-yard touchdown).

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has gained 58 yards on 29 red-zone attempts, with three touchdowns, including minus-2 yards on nine attempts inside the 5-yard line, with two scores. It would help the Falcons to get back Tevin Coleman from injury: He’s gained 48 yards on 11 red-zone attempts, including touchdowns on two of four attempts inside the 5.

Shanahan said a better rushing attack could lead to overall improvement in the offense.

“Sometimes you run the ball better, you can get better at third down,” Shanahan said. “Not necessarily (just) on third down, but you run the ball better and now you have more third-and-shorts. You run the ball more efficiently in the red zone, you get better looks for your receivers also. You never really say this (one) area. It has to do with everything.”