FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Better execution in the red zone has been one of the most important topics for the Falcons this offseason, but after coming away with just nine points in their five red-zone opportunities against the Eagles there is still work that remains to be done.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn wasn't pleased with his team's execution in the red zone in their 18-12 loss against the Eagles on Thursday night, but he also explained to his players that there is still time for improvement now only one game into the 2018 season.
"I reminded the team that last night isn't going to define us, in terms of our red-zone play for the year," Quinn said. "It's not what we wanted on our first outing and our first chance to play well down in the red zone. We've got much work to do. But I want them to know that one game isn't going to define how we're going to play down there. However, five trips and only 12 points that's tough and that's not going to get the job done against a good team."
The Falcons reached the red zone on their very first possession of the game, and they even ran three straight plays from the 1-yard line after Quinn decided to go for it on fourth down. Atlanta was unable to pick up the 1 yard needed after an incomplete pass and two runs, however, and came away with no points on what had been a promising opening drive.
"On the fourth-down play I thought we got beat at the point of attack, on the first try in our goal-line play on fourth-down-and-1," Quinn said. "In that same sequence I thought if Matt had another throw over to Free, he would certainly like that one. Some were both [physical and mental issues]."
The Falcons again drove down into the red zone on their second possession, but the Eagles defense again held firm. Atlanta opted to take the field goal and an early 3-0 lead, but an 0-2 start in the red zone is not what Quinn expected from his team after the attention given in that area over the offseason.
As a whole, the Falcons were able to move the ball against a good Eagles defense. They gained 299 yards and had just one turnover, but their inability to score touchdowns kept them from separating against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Atlanta's defense kept it in the game, and the Falcons had an opportunity down in the red zone to earn a victory in the game's final seconds. Matt Ryan threw five straight incomplete passes after the Falcons reached the 10-yard line, however, including one to Julio Jones on the final play of the game. Jones made the catch on the right sideline, but he was pushed out of bounds before getting his feet down.
"Us executing that play at the end, we've got to nail that," Quinn said. "We had the right one on – if there's a double that goes to Julio, it goes to another player; if there's a double that goes to Mohamed or stays where it was, it goes somewhere else. The read was correct in terms of where we wanted to go, we just didn't execute it."
Many have been quick to point the finger at second-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, but Quinn thought the Falcons had the right play calls in place for the most part during the game, they just couldn't make the plays when they needed to.
In Sarkisian's first year as offensive coordinator the Falcons ranked 23rd in red zone offense, scoring a touchdown on 50 percent of their chances.
"I was pleased with the variety," Quinn said of the play calls. "In terms of calling plays, especially down in the red zone, there's certain ones that you can do from the 5 to the 10, where you get back in a little bit further you can throw over the top of somebody still. When you're down closer, obviously you can't throw over a defender anymore, back line is good, outside towards the pylon is good.
"So, we were pleased with where [the plays were designed to go]. What we were not pleased with was the execution of it. That's not to say it's just players, that's all of us. Getting the right design, the right training. Our execution will be better."