FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have one of the most talented offensive units in the NFL, but they enter their second preseason game looking to be more efficient after a 17-0 loss to the Jets on Friday night.
Atlanta's starting unit had two penalties on its first possession of the game, which ended in a three-and-out, and the Falcons didn't pick up a first down until just before halftime. But there isn't any cause for concern moving forward, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian says the Falcons have had a good offseason and they just played poorly at a bad time.
"We just weren't nearly as efficient in the ball game as we would have liked to have been," Sarkisian said after Tuesday's practice. "We had had a really good camp up until that point, and we chose for that to be our worst day. I think we'll bounce back. We've had a good first couple days of practice heading into the ball game.
"The goal is to be efficient. We understand there's different bodies moving in and out of the lineup and different people playing with different folks. But at the end of the day, we all have a responsibility to do our job and play efficient football, and that's the goal for Friday night."
The preseason can be a difficult time to evaluate entire units, because it's a period where so much emphasis is placed on individual players. With only four games to determine which of the 90 players in training camp will earn a spot on the 53-man roster or the practice squad, coaches have to make sure they see certain players in certain roles to evaluate them fully.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Monday that part of the struggle in the offseason is choosing to call a different play than might ordinarily be called in a situation because they want to get the ball to a specific player. Sarkisian elaborated on that point a bit and how he approaches that as a play-caller.
"We need to see how a player is going to respond to certain situations," Sarkisian said. "And as much stress as we can put on them gives us more information. Whether it's a runner on a specific run or a receiver on a specific route or a lineman on a specific block, it goes all the way down the line. Those things are invaluable to us.
"There might be a better a little better play call on third down but man, I really want to see this guy run that route, and I want to see if he can win versus this man-to-man coverage. So, you do sacrifice those things in the preseason for the game later down the road in the regular season."
A lot of the conclusions drawn in the preseason should be taken with a grain of salt, as the approach for teams is different than it is in the regular season when the games count.
As for how a coordinator like Sarkisian manages to prepare himself for the regular season, he explained that a lot of that work gets done in practice. Sarkisian said the Falcons are still approaching these weeks like training camp and fine-tuning their offense for the season while also balancing the game-planning that needs to be done for a preseason game.
The results of the games in the preseason may not matter, but the insights learned at this time can prove valuable for the regular season. Finding players who can fill certain roles or provide value in various aspects of the game can pay dividends in the coming months, even if it means losing a game in August.
"This is an important time for us in evaluating personnel and evaluating players," Sarkisian said. "Sometimes it's not always about the scheme in the preseason, it's about ensuring that we're putting players in position to learn what they're capable of or not capable of doing."