ATLANTA – There wasn’t an ounce of panic that exuded out of Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after the Week 1 loss to the Eagles, one in which his offense was held to 12 points and went 1-of-5 in the red zone.
And while it could be easy to say, ‘How is that even possible?’ after an offseason in which Atlanta’s offense, specifically in the red zone, was heavily scrutinized at times outsides the walls of the team’s facility.
In Sarkisian’s eyes, it was simple. There was no reason to spiral into panic mode and overreact over one performance because he was confident in the work he and the offense had put in all offseason to get this part of their game right.
One game doesn’t tell the story of a team and the Falcons’ offense eventually proved that exact point.
Outside of the run game, before the Falcons' bye week in Week 8, Sarkisian’s offense ranked in the top-10 in almost every statistical category on offense: No. 1 in third down percentage, No. 3 in passing yards per game, No. 4 in points per game, No. 5 in yards per play, No. 6 in the red zone.
The biggest area the Falcons’ offense needed to improve in was their red-zone scoring offense and they’ve done just that.
With significant attention devoted to this area, Sarkisian has Atlanta’s offense humming all over the field and especially when they get inside the 20-yard line.
“I think we just shined a light on it,” Sarkisian said of how they went about improving in the red zone. “We put more time into it in practice. We’ve stuck to our process. We are installing red zone a day earlier in the week then we normally would so the guys have an extra day of retaining information. Ultimately in the red zone, it’s about execution. Matt’s just playing with a lot of confidence not only in himself but in all of the guys, I think that’s why you’re seeing the ball get spread around and guys making plays.”
Another reason Sarkisian believes the Falcons have been better in certain areas is where he’s calling the plays from this year.
Sarkisian started his first season with the Falcons calling plays from the sidelines – where he had called plays from all of his career. Following the bye in Week 4, Sarkisian moved up to the coaches’ booth to call plays for the remainder of the season.
This season, Sarkisian is back on the field calling plays where he feels most comfortable and he believes it’s paying dividends for not himself but the rest of the offense as well.
“I love being back on the field, I will say that,” Sarkisian said. “Being around Matt, being around the guys really communicating. Seeing the look in their eyes and them seeing me. I think there’s something to be said about my own confidence in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and that feeds itself to the players.”
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has seen Sarkisian’s move to the field impact the offense in a number of ways, mostly with his communication with Ryan.
It’s probably in the timeouts when I see it the most. He may even go to Matt, and say ‘Hey, I’m thinking this or this. Do you have one?’ On the headsets, you don’t get the feedback back – it’s kind of like you’re a one-person dialogue. So, to have him have that kind of connection and say, ‘Hey, I’m either thinking this one or this one. [Matt] might answer back, hey, I like option B. Let’s roll with it.’ Having those kind of things for a guy like Matt is big.”
Ryan’s play thus far has been nothing short of sensational. Through the first seven games, Ryan was the NFL’s leader in passing yards with 2,335 yards. He’s averaging 333 yards per game and has completed 187 out of 263 attempts.
His performance has certainly been a big reason to why this offense is playing at the level it is right now.
But if there’s one area of the Falcons’ offense Sarkisian wants improved is the run game. The Falcons have the No. 31 rushing offense in the league.
And although their passing attack led by Ryan has been almost unstoppable, Sarkisian knows the offense can be even better with a run game to go hand-in-hand.
“We would like to get the run game going better than it has because it’s such a big part of what we do because it sets up all of our play-action pass stuff and we love throwing the ball down the field. I’m really encouraged by the guys. Matt’s efficiency of throwing the football right now, we’re spreading the ball around. A lot of receivers are making their plays. For us to be as complete as we want to be we have to start running the ball better.”
Ahead of the 2018 season, virtually no one could have expected the Falcons to have placed six starters on injured reserve by Week 7. No one expected the Falcons to be 3-4 at the bye week. No one expected the Falcons to rank No. 30 in points allowed in a game.
It’s safe to say, the first half of Atlanta’s season hasn’t gone as planned by any means. But the Falcons’ offense has remained a continuous bright spot for this team and is one of the main reasons why despite a 3-game losing skid to start the season, the Falcons still have a chance to turn their season around after the bye.