When the three consecutive whistles sounded to signal the end of practice Monday afternoon, quarterback Matt Ryan and his receivers knew where they were going. It’s where they’ve honed so much of their attention thus far at training camp: the goal-line.
After all, that’s where last year ended. It would seem only fitting it would be where the bulk of this one started.
Ryan lined up under center with two receivers on one side. One would run a fade route, the other a slant. Sometimes they’d flip. The next play Ryan would signal at the line which combination they’d try this time.
Last season, the Falcons ranked 23rd in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring a touchdown on just 49 percent of their trips inside the opposing 20. In total, the team scored 36 touchdowns after scoring 63 the year before. There’s a unanimous, vocal stream at training camp from all involved: That’s not good enough.
“There’s definitely a point of emphasis for us to continue to get good work in the red area, try to be more productive, score more touchdowns than we did last year,” Ryan said Monday. “I think there’s an urgency from the players of getting the extra work that we need to try to be more productive in that.”
Much of that could boil down to finding Julio Jones more often. Jones, frequently the target of those fade routes in the post-practice red-zone drills, scored just three touchdowns last year.
It’s not that simple, but it seems some of the issue might have been a lack of simplicity. When you have an athletic 6-foot-6 receiver of Jones’ ilk, sometimes simplicity is key.
Ryan then faces questions about the team’s Super Bowl window. The playoff game against last season’s eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles ended with the ball on the 1-yard line, unable to convert to win the game in a goal-to-go situation.
“I think from a player’s perspective, the window is always one year. It’s this team that we have right now. How good can it be?” Ryan said. “I don’t worry so much about the window you talk about, to me it’s, we’ve got seven months, six months to be the absolute best football team we can be.”
The two seem intertwined. With the defensive talent emerging on the other side of the ball, Ryan knows the season could boil down to the team’s efficiency on offense, as it did a year ago. He’s vowing to fix those woes.
“We always talk about, ‘We get what we emphasize,’” he said. “As an organization, that’s been something that we’ve emphasized. We’ll expect to see better results there.”