By Matthew Asher
Going back to the 2013 Playoffs, the last five Falcons games have all followed an eerily similar pattern: Atlanta jumped out to a two score lead in the first half but in the second half the Falcons seemed to always give up the lead near the end. Only twice was Atlanta able to finish those games on the winning side.
What’s the reason for Atlanta’s inability to produce good drives, and more importantly points in the second half of games? One of the main reasons this season appears to be Atlanta’s red zone offense and defense, or lack thereof, that have spelled doom for the Falcons.
Last year Atlanta converted almost 58 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns, which was the 10th best conversion rate in the NFL. This year they’re down to 50 percent, putting them in a seven-way tie for 24th place.
Last week Atlanta’s red zone inefficiency was especially apparent on both sides of the ball. Five times Atlanta was inside the 20-yard line but could only score touchdowns on two of the drives. On the flip side, Miami was a perfect three of three in red zone offense.
Coach Mike Smith acknowledged Atlanta’s recent issues in the second half. Smitty, like any good coach should do, had no problem taking the blame. “The responsibility goes to me,” Smith said on Monday. “It doesn’t go to the quarterback; it doesn’t go to the offensive line; it doesn’t go to the offensive coordinator. It’s my responsibility as the head coach to make sure that we’re more efficient in the red zone. I can assure you that’s something that will be addressed.”
Smitty did take responsibility, but at the end of the day it comes down to the Falcons being able to properly execute. One of the complaints was that with Miami’s game-winning drive, Atlanta may have played too conservative. But looking at the stats, it would appear that putting extra pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill would have probably just resulted in Miami scoring quickly.
According to profootballfocus.com, Atlanta blitzed Tannehill on 14 drop backs. Thirteen of the 14 passes (almost 93 percent) were completed to his receivers. The one “miss” was an interception by Atlanta safety William Moore.
If Atlanta loses their next game against the New England Patriots, it will be the first time in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era that the team has started a season 1-3. The last time that happened was with the infamous 2007 season which included Michael Vick’s incarceration and head coach Bobby Petrino resigning after just 13 games. The Falcons finished that season 4-12.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 pm EST. #RiseUp
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.