The Falcons’ first-team offense has managed to cobble together one touchdown drive in three exhibition losses.
While playing without two of their key weapons in wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, the offense struggled mightily against a stout Jaguars’ defense in a 17-6 loss on Saturday night at TIAA Stadium.
Quarterback Matt Ryan and the unit managed two field goals and three three-and-outs over five series of action. They were playing so poorly that coach Dan Quinn sent them back out for a fifth series after saying he just wanted them to play three or four series.
But despite the shaky exhibition season, which saw them drop passes, be ineffective in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, Ryan does not have any concerns heading into the regular-season opener. The majority of the Falcons’ starters will not play against the Dolphins in the fourth exhibition game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Not really,” Ryan said when asked if he had any concerns about the offense. “I’ve played long enough to know that some years, you are 4-0 in the (exhibition) season and it doesn’t certainly pan out that way in the regular season. Some years, you are not that way in the (exhibition) season and the regular season could be different.”
Ryan believes the Falcons, who were the only team to return to the NFC playoffs last season after fighting off a potential Super Bowl hangover, have some special qualities.
“I think the veterans and the experienced guys that we have make you feel good about what we are going to be and who we are going to be as we move forward throughout the year,” Ryan said.
Jacksonville reached the AFC championship game and had the league’s second-rated defense in yards allowed (286.1) and points allowed (16.8) last season.
“It’s a good front seven for sure,” Ryan said. “They (Jaguars) are talented. They are deep. They’ve got a good rotation where they can rotate guys in. Good scheme. They were aggressive.
“I thought they did a nice job. I thought our offensive line did a nice job. Against a good defense like that, they are going to make some plays. They are going to have their chances. We had our chances too, but we didn’t hit on enough of them.”
The Falcons were sacked four times and the Jaguars had five quarterback hits. The pass coverage gave their rushers extra time to get to the passer.
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“One of them was definitely good coverage in the back end,” Ryan said. “We were trying to move to extend something and the pocket kind of collapsed. We also understand going into a game like that, when you are in third-and-6, third-and-7 plus, that’s not where you want to be. We have to be productive on first and second down when you are going against a good front seven like the Jaguars.”
The rushing attack produced misleading numbers and was not consistent. The Falcons ran the ball 18 times for 70 yards (a sub-par 3.9 yards per carry). Take out Tevin Coleman’s 22-yard run and the numbers were gruesome (17 for 48, 2.8 yards per carry).
“We had some gashes, some explosive runs that made those numbers go up,” Ryan said. “But going into when you play defenses like this ... you know it’s going to be tough sledding throughout the day. You have just got to stay with it. I thought (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) did a nice job of that to kind of crease them in the run game. We just need more of those.”
Ryan wasn’t as bothered with the dropped passes as coach Dan Quinn, who called them “self-inflicted wounds.”
The Falcons led the league with 30 dropped passes last season.
“You get back to work,” Ryan said of eliminating the dropped passes. “That’s the only way I know. Get back on the practice field and keep putting ourselves in those situations.”
Ryan considers dropped passes as physical mistakes.
“We’ve got guys that are going to make plays for us this year,” Ryan said. “Physical mistakes are going to happen at certain times.”
Ryan likes how the offense is preparing and that’s why he can have such a rosy outlook.
“Where I was pleased mostly was with our procedural stuff,” Ryan said. “How we were lined up. Where we were going. Targeting and alignments, all of those things. I thought that was all positive.”
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu nearly made a spectacular catch in the end zone on his dropped pass.
“He makes those tough, contested catches better than anybody,” Ryan said. “(A hundred) out of 100 times he makes that play. So, he didn’t make it (against the Jaguars). He’s going to make that play more often than not.”
The Falcons only touchdown drive came in the second exhibition game against the Chiefs. It started after the Falcons converted on a third-and-11.
Ryan is putting a lot of stock in how the Falcons are practicing.
“There are all different kinds of successes that you have throughout (exhibition) season, whether if it’s in practice or in games or whatever,” Ryan said. “You have to take the cumulative whole of what we’ve done up until this point. I feel really good about it. I feel positive about it. The work we’ve gotten in practice has been really good.”
Ryan believes the coaching staff has used the exhibition games to get younger players ready to play.
“We’ve put guys in situations where we are going to need them to make plays during the regular season,” Ryan said. “I think a lot of those guys, particularly our young guys, will be better for that when we get into those situations.”
Ryan is not worried about looping Jones and Freeman back into the attack at the start of the regular season.
“I mean, we practice with them and that’s part of it when you have veteran guys and going into Year 11 for me, kind of understanding, you know how valuable the practice time is and how critical it is to get out here and get really good work,” Ryan said. “And our guys have done that.
“But (Quinn) has to make decisions for the long term, and keeping those guys out certainly affects what you do, because they are such a big part of who we are and how we operate.”
Also, Ryan believes the new operation of the offense with Sarkisian on the field is working out well.
“Sark likes being down on the field,” Ryan said. “Ultimately, that’s what you want, you want him feeling where he’s most comfortable. But a good set of eyes, a veteran (in quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp) who’s called plays in the past, I think that’s beneficial.”