Matt Ryan didn’t look cold in the low temperatures Wednesday, but he and the Falcons’ offense have been stuck in a deep freeze during a four-game losing streak. The running game has been particularly solid – as in frozen – with totals of 71, 80, 26 and 34 yards in losses to Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans and Baltimore.
Atlanta now ranks last in the NFL in rushing, with 79.0 yards on the ground per game, which would be the sixth-lowest average for a season in franchise history. So before the Falcons (4-8) play the Packers (4-7-1) Sunday in Green Bay, the quarterback was asked about other issues after somebody first inquired about the chill in the air after they practiced outdoors.
“I guess it was the best Atlanta could do to get us ready to go, but it was a good practice for us today, good to get back on the field and for us to have a little wind and a little bit of cooler weather is good because it will be a little bit like that this weekend,” he said.
Here is what else Ryan had to say about the NFC game with the Falcons faint playoff hopes on the line.
Q. How can the Falcons jump start the offense, particularly the run game?
A. “We’ve got to execute better as players than we have up to this point. We’ve got to extend some drives, we’ve got to get further into drives to kind of wear a defense down to be able to run it effectively. Last week, we didn’t do a good enough job of staying on the field (2 of 9 third downs and 0 of 1 on fourth down) and extending some of those drives.”
Q. Indeed, the Falcons have converted just 18 of 50 third downs during the four-game skid, including 5 of 10 on third-and-1 and 1 of 5 on third-and-2, so when you say that everybody has to execute better, what are specific examples?
A. “From my position, I’ve got to get us into the right spots, the right looks. And then, from other positions, whether it’s blocking technique, angles, tracks for our run game, angles from our wide receivers in outside zone vs. inside zone ... those are all little details that create small gaps or bigger gaps or spaces for us to run.
“We all have to kind of pull our weight and execute a little better, and perform the tasks that we’re asked to do a little better.”
Q. Is it fair to say the most important part of increasing offensive efficiency is to jack up the running attack?
A. “For sure. It’s one of those things where sometimes your pass numbers are up because you’re in games where you’ve got to pass the ball more. ... I think last week we just weren’t able to get anything going. ...
“Our record certainly indicates that, but certainly getting that run game going will help the play-action pass. When we’re at our best, we’re running the football and we’re able to create explosive plays off our play-action pass game. That starts with getting the run game going.”
Q. Did the Ravens’ aggressive approach up front last week make it more difficult for you to get the offense in the right looks?
A. “They did a nice job of giving you one look, taking it away, showing another look. They disguise pretty well. Green Bay does some of that as well, so I’ve got to do my best and get us into the best look possible, but Baltimore did do a nice job with that last week.
“I think they do a good job rotating and giving you different looks with personnel. That’s probably the No. 1 think for us from a communication standpoint.”
Q. While defensive end Kenny Clark leads the Pack with six sacks, outside linebacker/edge rusher Clay Matthews (2.5 sacks and a team-high 10 quarterback hits) still has to be accounted for, right?
A. “He’s still playing really well; he’s got a knack for getting after the passer ... getting after the ball. He’s a savvy player, and is smart against the run and the pass. He finds ways to create havoc and problems.”
Q. When the offense struggles and the team is losing, how do you keep frustration from interfering with preparation moving forward?
A. “I think I’ve learned how to deal with that better throughout my career. I feel like I’ve got a really good process for myself in terms of preparation and what I do during the week each day to get myself ready to play. I think you trust in that. I’ve always felt like if your process is poor and your results and good, that’s not sustainable.
“But sometimes your process is good and the results are not what you want, and having the mental strength and confidence to stick with the process that you know works and puts you in a good position, having confidence in that process knowing that it’s going to come to fruition. ... That’s kind of where I go in times like this.
“I’ve learned that you don’t make stuff up. You go back to work. You do what you do and do it better.”
Q. Dan Quinn said that in trying to bump up the run game, you all are “going back” to look at what has been successful in the past. Do you sense after the first day of preparation that you’re going to go back to run plays that worked well earlier than maybe haven’t been called recently?
A. “I think so. I think you also have to look at who we’re going against. The run game, you’ve got to take what you do well and it’s got to fit who you’re going against. I think our staff is always self-scouting, and taking a look at what have we had success with in the past and how does that fit against who we’re going against this week.”
Q. Do you make suggestions?
A. “Yes. For sure. I have open dialogue with our offensive staff all through the week.”