By Matthew Asher
Less than 24 hours after Atlanta’s 27-13 loss at the hands of the Chicago Bears, Falcons head coach Mike Smith came up with a “To-Do” list of sorts with six ways for how the Dirty Birds can stop losing games and get back into the divisional hunt. It’s an interesting thing to do because it does show that Smitty knows (or at least thinks he knows) how to fix the losing skid the team is currently suffering.
Of course, Smitty took responsibility for the teams woes. “I’m ultimately held responsible, but we have to do it as a team,” Smith said. “We’re in this together and we’ve got to make sure that what we do on the practice field translates to the game field.” With that in mind, here’s the modified list Smitty has but with a more in-depth look than simply saying the Falcons have to do this to beat the Baltimore Ravens. For simplicity’s sake, this will not discuss the note of “fewer dropped passes” because that’s just part of the game.
Better third down execution on both sides of the ball
Offensively, Atlanta has currently converted just 33 of their 75 third-down attempts (44 percent), which actually ranks Atlanta as the tenth best in the league. Still, when looking at their four losses, that’s when the Falcons need to worry. The Minnesota game was the lone loss where Atlanta did a great job of converting 10 of their 15 third-down attempts for a very good 67 percent. It’s the other three losses that are troubling as Atlanta converted just 9 of 38 attempts (24 percent).
Defensively, rather than look at Atlanta’s defensive stats, we’ll focus on Baltimore’s offensive ones. While the Ravens have lost two games, only one of them was an ugly loss. While a 20-13 loss against Indy in Week 5 doesn’t look bad on paper, Baltimore was limited to just 3 points in the first three quarters. In that game, the Colts held the Ravens to just 287 total yards. One big reason was limiting Baltimore on third downs as they went 1-11 for the game (9 percent). It gets worse because the Ravens also attempted 3 fourth-down conversions and succeeded just once. While keeping Baltimore to 10 percent on third downs, shooting for 33 percent would be just fine.
Improve protection of Matt Ryan
This is one of those descriptions that can’t simply be qualified by a single stat. As far as sacks allowed goes, Atlanta has done a respectable job allowing just 10 sacks on Ryan so far, which ranks them tied with four other teams for the 10th best protection and two of those teams have only played five games.
The problem has been the pressure put on Ryan. Like any quarterback, when several 300 lb men are charging full speed at him, it’s human nature to be slightly unnerved. Atlanta did draft Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick to address this exactly problem. However, injuries have taken their toll as three offensive linemen have already been placed on the IR for the rest of the season. The solution is simple in theory: have an extra back stay for protection or run the ball more often. Of course, it’s never that simple, but it’s two possibilities.
Limit, if not eliminate explosive plays
For context, an explosive play is anything that covers 20-plus yards. Smitty also mentioned eliminating busted coverages in the secondary. Since they are related, they’re being put together here. Rather than go into way too many details, the Chicago game is the perfect example. There were eight explosive plays by the Bears which resulted in 231 of Chicago’s 478 total yards. It’s simple: eliminate even half of those plays and it’s a completely different game.
Hopefully the next several days of practice will allow the Falcons to address all of these issues. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm ET. #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.