FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian met with the media on Wednesday and was brutally honest about his first year with the team.
“At this point a year ago, I was still going through a lot of the growing pains of the system, the players and learning the staff,” Sarkisian said. “Year 2 is just night and day, for me personally, just from a comfort level and where we are as a team.”
And that’s good news for the Falcons, especially their high-octane offense.
Right after the 2017 season concluded, Falcons coach Dan Quinn listed a number of areas where the Falcons fell short of expectations in his season-ending news conference, highlighting three of them: lack of explosive scoring plays, red zone offense and turnover margin.
The first two areas fall squarely upon the offense.
For a little perspective, the Falcons had 19 plays that were outside the red zone that resulted in scores in 2016, which was tops in the league. In 2017, the Falcons had just seven.
The Falcons dropped off significantly in red zone touchdown percentage, going from ninth in 2016 to 23rd in 2017. After scoring a league-high 540 points in 2016, the Falcons scored 353 points in 2017. Atlanta converted 50 percent of its red-zone chances in 2017 after converting 61.9 the year before.
“At the end of the day in this league – and in any league – it’s about scoring points,” Sarkisian said. “And we were really dynamic offensively (in 2017). We were third in the league in explosive plays a year ago, we were No. 1 in the NFL in third down conversions, but at the end of the day we didn’t score enough points.”
In turnover margin, the Falcons were plus-11 in 2016 and just minus-2 in 2017. “That’s seven more turnovers offensively and about six fewer takeaways defensively,” Quinn said back in January.
But 2017 is officially in the books and listening to the Falcons’ second-year offensive coordinator talk about the coming season, that’s a good thing – especially for the offense. Why? Because Sarkisian is much more comfortable with the offense and the Falcons personnel.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just overall comfort level,” Sarkisian said of beginning his second season. “When I came in a year ago, it was learning the system that was in place. It was learning the players that were in place. In Year 2, I have a year in the system. Now I can make some of the tweaks that I feel like are needed for this offense to continue to grow. I’ve got a really good understanding of every player – and the things that they’re really good at, the things that they maybe need to work on, and things that I would be wrong in putting them in position to do.
“I think all of those things just puts me at a much different level of comfort, where you just feel good every day walking in like, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to work on today because I think we can get better at it. And if we really want to run this play, X player needs to run this play, not this player because X player runs it better.' And that goes a long, long way when you think about it.”