CLEVELAND – The Falcons have looked like an offensive juggernaut for much of the 2018 season, but they fell far short of their standard, offensively, during Sunday's 28-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Atlanta (4-5) gained 382 yards on offense, short of its 412-yard average coming into the game, and managed just 16 points after averaging nearly 30 this season. What those surface numbers don't show, however, was the imbalance the Falcons had on offense and the lack of explosive plays from a normally explosive unit.
"We thought we would have some opportunities to create some plays in space, and get some explosives, and we didn't do that to the level that we needed to today," said Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times on Sunday and completed 38 of those attempts, but only two of those passes gained 30 yards or more, and only four of his passes went for 20 yards or more. That's not what this Falcons offense has been for much of this season.
Ryan still turned in another noteworthy performance, completing 73 percent of his passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. But the Browns' defense did a good job limited the overall effectiveness of Atlanta's offense, especially on the ground.
One week after running for 154 yards and averaging 7.7 yards per carry against the Redskins, the Falcons gained just 71 yards on the ground while averaging 3.7 yards per carry on Sunday. The longest run of the game for Atlanta was an 18-yard gain by Tevin Coleman, who finished with 44 yards on 11 carries.
The Falcons face the Cleveland Browns this Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Get your inside look here.
Conversely, the Browns saw a franchise rushing record fall when rookie Nick Chubb broke free for a 92-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Cleveland's rushing attack went for 211 yards on 29 carries and was a large reason why the Falcons fell behind early and had to play catch-up for much of the afternoon.
"We have to be more disciplined upfront," Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "Giving up 200 [yards] is not something we are proud of. We have to be better, there's no way around it."
Regardless of what opposing teams do offensively, the Falcons are often equipped to compete in, and win, shootouts. The Browns clearly came into this game with the intention of not allowing the Falcons to beat them with explosive plays and that game plan worked.
Ryan's first six completions were to either a tight end or a running back, a sign of how the Browns were playing the Falcons' offense. Cleveland appeared content to allow short gains or let the Falcons run the ball in exchange for having an extra man back to take away anything deep.
"They played a lot of two-high the whole game, and we just have to go out there and find ways to attack cover two," Falcons receiver Julio Jones said. "We know we're going to see it for the remainder of the season, so it's up to us to go out there and make something happen."
The Falcons did break a record of their own, Sunday, as Jones became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards, accomplishing that feat in his 104th career game. But while reaching that milestone is an incredible accomplishment for one of the best receivers in league history, it doesn't provide much comfort for the loss.
After Sunday the Falcons once again dipped below .500, and the road doesn't get any easier moving forward. Atlanta will need its offense operating at high levels if it is to have any type of memorable run over the final seven games.
For now, the focus for the Falcons is rebounding and getting back to their style of football.
"There are seven games to go, and we are right in the mix," Said Ryan. "Probably the most important part of being a professional is being able to move on. That includes being able to move on from both positive experiences and negative experiences. Today was disappointing, but we can't begin to start feeling sorry for ourselves or anything like that. We have to get back to work tomorrow to ensure that we play the type of football that we are capable of playing next week. That has to be the mindset. That has to be the mindset of our coaching staff and our players. We have to put the work in and try to play better next week."