The Falcons’ offense showed flashes of its former self Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
They are hopeful that the brief trend continues when the Falcons (4-9) play the Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The rushing attack was active and quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t look like he was running a fire drill every time that he dropped back to pass in the 34-20 loss to the Packers.
The offense cobbled together more than 100 yards rushing for only the third time this season (107 yards on 24 carries), and Ryan was sacked just one time by the Packers. His other sack came on his mis-throw when he tried to pull the ball back and he ended up throwing a lateral.
“The momentum gained in the run game needs to be sustained,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We definitely made progress in that spot both with Tevin (Coleman) and with Ito (Smith). I was glad to see that. Now, let’s build off of that.”
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With the run game working, the Falcons were not in as many obvious passing situations.
“We had better runs, which turned into a better pocket for Matt,” Quinn said. “That was better. We need to continue to improve upon on that for sure.”
The Cardinals’ defense is giving up 134.5 yards rushing per game, which ranks 29th in the league. The Falcons average 81.2 yards, which ranks 32nd in the NFL.
“I thought we did a nice job with the run game this past weekend,” Ryan said. “The offensive line did a nice job of opening up some holes and the backs did good job with it.”
The Falcons need to clean up their penalties. They had three holding penalties that erased 78 yards of offense (64 passing, 14 rushing) and stifled three drives.
“We just need to eliminate some of the mistakes from our game that we’ve had the last couple of weeks,” Ryan said. “If we can do that, we’ll be able to score some points and be productive.”
Ryan tried to encourage his unit to move on beyond their miscues.
“My message is always the same, it’s the next-play mentality,” Ryan said. “That’s the way you have to operate in this league, regardless of what has happened – good or bad, your focus has to shift and move onto that next play. You keep reiterating that, and you keep telling guys to attack this next play that we have.”
Ryan will have to carry on with his top two targets hobbled. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (foot/calf) and tight end Austin Hooper (knee/ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Jones didn’t practice much last week and played, but Hooper’s injury is new.
Second-year tight end Eric Saubert may have to play more for Hooper.
“Saubert’s done a great job for us,” Ryan said. “I thought he did a nice job last week and caught a nice pass for us in the flat, was able to get some yards after the catch too. He’s done a nice job in the run game, pass-protection. I think he’s gotten better. In the two years he has been here, he’s improved a lot.”
Arizona coach Steve Wilks, who spent the previous six seasons with the Carolina Panthers, is no stranger to the Falcons’ offense. He was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator in 2017 and was the associate head coach from 2015-17.
“Just being in that division and competing against those guys, you talk about Matt Ryan, one of the top (players) at that position and all of the weapons that he has around him,” Wilks said.
The Falcons’ perked-up rushing attack caught Wilks’ eyes during his film study.
“Even though, (Devonta) Freeman is out, the run game is very effective with (Tevin) Coleman,” Wilks said. “Those guys do such a great job with their play action. I think the ball handling with Matt Ryan is tremendous. Then they have the ability to get down the field with Julio (Jones).”
While the Falcons have battled injuries, staying focused and shoddy play at times, Quinn has been pleased with the play of Ryan.
“It’s very reassuring knowing that there are some things we need to reset on, but that ain’t one,” Quinn said of his quarterback. “That’s a damn good feeling. Not only is he playing really good football, the things that are not on the stat sheet like he’s a really good competitor.”
While Quinn said that everyone, players and staff, will be evaluated at the end of the season, the quarterback appears to have earned an exemption.
“I think he’s got a lot of time left,” Quinn said and noted Ryan’s age. “He’s not thinking about slowing down one bit.”