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Inside Tori's Notebook: Why the Falcons still need more in "middle eight" of games

Certain areas have improved for the Falcons since their Week 11 bye, but they could use a bit more consistency in the "middle eight." 

Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori McElhaney re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened and why it's notable.


S'TATTED UP -- The "middle eight" has become somewhat of a joke I have with Scott Bair ever since I wrote my Week 6 notebook explaining why you -- the reader and presumed Falcons fan -- should care about the "middle eight." For those who read that edition of my notebook, congrats! You know what the "middle eight" is. If you don't I'll help you out right here.

The "middle eight" is the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. It's a really important time for teams to play with this idea of momentum both at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. History has shown us games have changed in the "middle eight." Heck. Games have been won in the "middle eight."

Back in Week 6 I wrote that the Falcons needed to be better in the "middle eight." When given the opportunity, they needed to put points on the board during this crucial time of the game.

I say all of this to say that, for the first time against the Jets in Week 13, the Falcons finally bookended the "middle eight" with points on the board. This was the first time this season Atlanta has scored either a field goal or touchdown in their final drive of the first half and their first drive of the second half. In a game the Falcons won 13-8, those two field goals mattered. It's probably why Scott and I laughed when he turned to me with four minutes to go in the first half and said (with quite a bit of excitement, for an arbitrary note), "Hey! Hey! It's the "middle eight!" Look!"

We laughed about it, but it got me thinking: I keep talking about the "middle eight," but what are the stats behind the Falcons' production (or lack thereof) in the middle of games. So, I made a note to go back and look at the drives of the "middle eight." And let me just say, it's a good thing I gave myself enough time at the airport on Monday morning to go through these drives, because it took a hot minute.

Before I give you the full breakdown of stats and numbers, I want to preface what you're about to dive into by saying the drives I pulled are subjective. In theory, the "middle eight" is pretty self-explanatory and you would think I only pulled drives that happened between that eight-minute window. But I gave myself, and the Falcons, some wiggle room. For the most part, I did only pull the final drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half or the drives that started in that window. However, there were drives in this bunch that I thought were important in the context of games. For example, I pulled three drives from the first half of the Tennessee game. One drive started at the 5:27 mark, another began at 1:33 and the final was an end-of-half kneel to take the game into halftime after 28 seconds. Technically speaking, the drive that began at the 5:27 mark does not fall into the above criteria of the "middle eight" but because the final drive of the half was just a kneel down, I wanted to include the two drives before it for context. So, long story short, if it was close enough to that "middle eight" window, I included it within reason.

OK. Whew. Ready for the numbers?

The Falcons have totaled 35 possessions in the "middle eight." Of those 35, here's how they break down:

- 14 drives have ended in punts (40%)

- 6 drives have ended in turnovers (17%)

- 7 drives have ended in points (20%) - Two touchdowns (vs. Green Bay, vs. Jacksonville), five field goals (two coming against the Jets this Sunday) and one missed field goal (vs. Detroit)

- 10 possessions are drives of 4 plays or less (28.6%) *only punting outcomes, not including end-of-half kneel downs.

All in all? The Falcons need more in the "middle eight" of games.

Something that almost shocked me about these numbers and percentages was the sheer amount of turnovers. We know, to this point, the Falcons offense has had a turnover problem. It's been the difference in games. It caught me a bit off guard how many turnovers happened during these specific times of games, which, thinking about it, makes sense. Offenses are usually pressing during these windows, particularly before halftime. With the clock ticking down, it can cause unease. To know that nearly just as many drives to this stage ended in turnovers as they did actual points on the board? That's an obvious area for improvement.

Another thought is that the Falcons need longer drives and more first downs. With nearly 30% of drives ending in four plays or less, not only are the Falcons forced to punt the ball back to the opposing offenses, giving them another opportunity with no points on the board themselves, they're doing so quickly. In seven of those 10 drives, the Falcons were only holding possession for 1:30 or less.

I know I just threw a ton of information your way, but I hope it was informative. I found it to be so.

If you've made it this far I also hope you can see one thing to be true: The Falcons need more during the "middle eight." With so many games that come down to one or two possessions, these possessions matter and could be a difference-making time for the Falcons in games if they see more productive in them.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets during Week 13.

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