Football, NFL

Red Zone Woes Plague Falcons

NFL opening kickoff has finally come and passed. Last night we were treated with two of the better built teams in the NFL, and in all honesty, it was kind of a disappointment. The game was full of dumb mistakes (running into kicker, lining up offsides, and questionable penalties). All in all, there were a total of 26 penalties on both sides for over 236 yards. Penalties accounted for more yards than either team managed via pass or run over the course of the entire game. There were multiple penalties that took away first downs or gave first downs in crucial situations. This definitely looks like an outlier as last season only 1 game accounted for 24 or more penalties. So what went wrong for the Falcons?

1. Penalties

 

Chirs Long RTP
Chris Long blocked into Ryan’s legs

As is the case with any heavily penalized and officiated game, there are going to be calls that are clearly questionable. This game was impacted too much by officials for most fans liking, especially considering how questionable some of the calls were. I think both sides can agree on this. The roughing the passer on Chris Long didn’t look to be deserved. The holding on Tru on a 3rd down stop could be called on every DB who covers a comeback route.

 

Chop Block
Schraeder clipping Fletcher Cox. Notice Mack is not engaged in a block making this a legal clip. Cox engaged Mack, but Mack was not engaged in blocking Cox

The chop block on Schraeder looks clean as Alex Mack was not engaged up high when he clipped, and Cox just had his hand on Mack as a reference to the blocker as he slid accross the line with the play.  I am not sure how Grady Jarret avoids the roughing the passer penalty. Honestly, I think the NFL has gone entirely too far on protecting QB’s. Next year it’ll be illegal to look at the QB as he passes as he may get scared. Seriously though, fans don’t like seeing games overly impacted by refs, especially when a fair number of these calls were questionable to say the least.

These penalties really chopped up and killed the flow of the game helping to lean towards a more defensive match-up than a shooting match. The Falcons were able to out gain Philly in terms of yards, but poorly timed drops and penalties killed any momentum the Falcons would build. Jim Schwartz and the Philly defensive deserves their credit in this as well, and they will prove to be a tough match-up for everyone they face this season.

2. Blocking

 

Cox
Matt Ryan throwing out of a tight pocket. Philly consistently was able to generate pressure with 4 rushers

This is a real issue in the zone blocking scheme especially in the red zone (more below). The Falcons undersized more athletic line really struggles against powerful, quick DT’s when they bull rush the inside. The line of scrimmage for the Falcons was consistently reset 2 or 3 yards behind the original line as Philly’s defensive line was aggressive and able to move or shed blockers with ease (or so it seemed). Cox and Ngata are a tough match-up for any offensive line, but especially difficult for a lighter line not predicated on blocking power rushers.

3. Red Zone

 

This really has two parts: Blocking and play calling. Let’s start with the blocking and then I’ll go into play calling. First red zone trip of the game the Falcons came out and ran 2 straight power runs. The first took us down to the 1 yard line and the second went no where as Cox was all over it. I wasn’t necessarily upset about the call as much as I was the lack of creativity. It was the same as the play before and Philly was all over it. They had 11 in the box waiting for the run call.

PLay call creativity.png
Formations on 2nd and 4th down in 1st quarter red zone trip

It became really frustrating when we seen the same formation again on 4th down, and then ran it off the left side behind our weaker run blockers. The line was reset 2 yards back before the hand off (pictured below) due to Philly simply knowing what was coming. This is the creativity that is frustrating. We have no receivers on the field and allowed Philly to put everyone in the box to stop the run. This is just a lack of creativity and should of been something Sark was watching. As a fan on my couch, I could see our line could not block Philly’s goal-line front. Yet as the game continues to develop, this lack of creativity becomes a common theme.

4th and goal 2
Eagles DL knocks Falcons OL off the ball and move the line back on the 4th and goal carry

The Falcons had 5 red zone trips and came away with 1 FG and 1 TD. That’s a major problem for the Falcons and something to watch as the season develops. a 20% TD conversion rate in the red zone will not be acceptable given the talent level on the roster in Atlanta. Sark is going to have to become more creative with play designs and formations. Just like in the NFC divisional round, the Eagles knew the play call before the snap and easily shut it down. This is because there was no creativity, wrinkles, different looks, or anything that could be called creative or unique. The similarities to the playoff game makes you start to question what the Falcons coaching staff learned from that loss, if anything. We were told they would be more creative in the red zone, but I did not see anything creative. There were simple routes and formations that the Eagles could easily defend by just lining up 7 on the goal line. Shanahan solved this by sending two players to attack one zone. Sark seems content just letting play makers try and force a score regardless of how simple the play call.

Shanahan Red Zone
Shanahan’s offensive Red Zone conversion % and ranking in NFL

If you are an Eagles fan, you’re thinking that the Eagles are going to look great with the return of Bradham and Wentz coming back over the next few weeks. If you’re a Falcons fan, then you are thinking can Sark really lead this offense? Or more importantly, can the zone scheme hold up in goal line and red zone situations? This problem isn’t new to this scheme. In the last 10 years under this Shanahan system only 3 of those years has the offense been in the top 12 in red zone conversion percentage and only 2 in the top 10. Shanahan fixed this in 2016 by getting creative with play calls, routes, and formations so the defense couldn’t get a key and aggressively attack the offensive line. Can Sark make the adjustments? Does Quinn need to get more involved on the play calling? Ultimately if the problem doesn’t get resolved this falls on Quinn who hired Sark and has stuck up for him all off-season. Quinn has done a great job building the defense, but he has to be concerned on the play calling in the red zone. As a fan, I see the lack of creativity and how that kills our drives in the red zone. Does Dan Quinn see it too? Hopefully, or this again will be a long season for the Falcons.

 

-Sniper

 

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