Five things Falcons must focus on down the stretch

The Falcons, despite being eliminated from the NFC South divisional race, plan to re-set and close out the season strong.

After losing 31-17 to New Orleans on Thursday, the Falcons (4-7) find themselves trailing the Saints (10-1) by six games with five games to play. The Falcons, who are now a longshot to earn a wildcard playoff berth, return to practice Monday and will host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at 1 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Here are the five things the Falcons must focus on when they return to practice: 

1. Grounded run attack. The rushing attack has been shut down in recent games and the pass attack was slowed by turnovers and shaky pass protection against the Saints. 

The Falcons rushed 16 times for a season-low 26 yards for a paltry 1.6 yards per carry average against the Saints.

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“So it was well below the line,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Obviously, when you have a run game performance like we did, there's a lot to look at and a lot that needs our attention and our work because that was considerably below the line.”

After rushing for 154 yards in a win over Washington on Nov. 11, the Falcons have been held to 178 rushing yards in the three losses to Cleveland, Dallas and New Orleans. 

The passing attack amassed 377 yards against the Saints, but was plagued by fumbles from quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. All of the fumbles were inside of the Saints’ 20-yard line. 

Ryan was also under duress as he was sacked six times and hit 13 times. 

“So that was also the same thing in pass protection, to have six sacks in the game and have the run game that we did, that wasn't, that's not going to get the job done,” Quinn said. “And as poorly as we played, I thought we had a chance to get right back in it, but those turnovers in the red zone, I thought were a real factor.”

2. It’s about the ball. The turnovers cost the Falcons at least nine points and possibly 21.

“So challenging as it was, we had our opportunities and that's really when you hear me talk about the turnover margin… so when that doesn't come through, we have got to find our way back to that spot,” Quinn said.

The Falcons are considering some moves along the offensive line.

Moving veteran guard Zane Beadles in to the lineup and possibly tackle Ty Sambrailo are options being considered by Quinn and offensive line coach Chris Morgan. 

3. Run blocking issues. The team’s issues in this area extend beyond the offensive line. 

“It goes into receivers and tight ends (also),” Quinn said. “Were you in the correct alignment to make sure you're in a position to go get a crack block if you're a receiver. A tight end, can you dig out the defensive end. So, it goes even deeper (than just the line)…we have a saying here, it takes all 11.”

While the players had some time off, the coaches were looking at the rushing attack.

“It may be blocked well up front, but if you didn't get the safety blocked …. those are all factors we put in in the run game,” Quinn said. 

Getting the rushing attack back on track, cutting down on turnovers and improved pass protection are the offensive keys heading into the game against the Ravens.

4. Play-action worked. On defense, the Falcons went for some play-action fakes that left wide receivers wide open for touchdowns against Saints.

Linebacker DeVondre Campbell was fooled by play-action on the Saints first touchdown, a 28-yard pass to Tommylee Lewis. 

“They had a play action in front of them that he jumped up on and they threw it behind him,” Quinn said. 

Cornerback Desmond Trufant also got caught jumping a play-action fake that resulted in Dan Arnold’s touchdown to put the Saints up 24-3. The Saints set up the touchdown passes by staying committed to the rushing attack. 

“So both of those they were in zone defense, one was to De'Vondre, one was to Tru (Desmond Trufant), so good play by them, but that's what happened on those two,” Quinn said.

5. Deion Jones vs. Lamar Jackson. With the Falcons likely to face running quarterback Lamar Jackson, getting linebacker Deion Jones back would be helpful. Jones can shadow Jackson in some of the defensive schemes. 

“We're hopeful that he is going to be back and I'm hopeful we'll have him in the lineup,” Quinn said. “I know he was very close. So the fact that he is that close and that he's ready to go help us win, he'll be out there. And he'll get going.”

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