FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons passing game has hit a bit of a rough patch. While quarterback Matt Ryan and his receivers (from all positions) have had moments in the sun, overall production is a bit down of late.
The Falcons have totaled 183 yards or less in four of the last five games, with the Saints victory as an outlier where the air attack was humming.
They'll need it back in fine form starting Sunday against the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a Tom Brady-led team that can score in high volume.
What has prevented it from operating at previous clips? How can it get back on track?
Ryan had some thoughts on both matters that point to one thing: rhythm, as a passer and as an offense as a whole.
"We just haven't been in a rhythm that much in the pass game," he said. "I think a lot of it comes down to getting some early momentum. Last week the numbers weren't great, but we did a good job converting third downs early and got the run game going.
"It's about rhythm, trying to put guys in positions to make plays. It's about continuing to make sure my footwork is in a really good spot to deliver a ball effectively. I really do think it just takes a play here or there to get into a rhythm."
There have been times where the Falcons have temporarily found one. We saw some nice work, for example, on third-and-longs early that were crucial to that Jaguars win.
There are others where the ball sails, the routes aren't pristine, separation isn't created, or the protection breaks down. That's happening a bit too often in recent weeks, though there's zero cause for panic.
Head coach Arthur Smith's process centers around fixing problems with objective solutions, which is, as he has previously put it, about not jerking the wheel.
"It's details, for sure, and sticking to the plan," receiver Russell Gage said. "A lot of times people change things that don't need to be fixed. Things might look ugly one play, but just one little improvement could've made a difference. I know I sound like a [broken record] but details are always most important in completing passes and finding that rhythm."
Falcons legends from the '91 team came together to film The 30th Anniversary of 'The Rudest Team' The History of the 1991 Falcons. Get an inside look at some of the best moments behinds the scenes.
Gage has helped in that regard, with increased targets, receptions and yards in recent games. Cordarrelle Patterson's doing his thing and Kyle Pitts is always a threat who commands attention.
It also must be pointed out, as a simple statement of fact, that this five-game stretch with four subpar games featuring three touchdowns and seven interceptions, has coincided with Calvin Ridley being unavailable while dealing with a personal matter. We're not trying to identify causation by mentioning that. The Falcons have plenty of dynamic skill players and exploded against a quality New Orleans defense, so this group can and must improve moving forward.
Improvement requires better from so many, but when you're a quarterback with Matt Ryan's resume, even the occasional missed throw is magnified some. That's why Ryan was asked about two from the Jaguars game in his weekly press conference.
"From a whole sample size I don't think it's huge, but you have to be in good position and I think I can do a better job than I have the past couple weeks," Ryan said. "It's part of sports. You miss, but you can't let it linger. You get back to work and have a great week of practice, and that's what I'm focused on right now."