FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — A few weeks in the past, people wished to provide Steve Sarkisian a collective pat on the again after the Atlanta Falcons went 11-of-14 on third down and put up 34 factors in a house win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Then, after final week’s 9-point outing and 1-for-10 third-down efficiency in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, some followers wished to provide the Falcons’ offensive coordinator a swift kick within the butt.
Such are the ups and downs of a playcaller, one thing Sarkisian has grown accustomed to throughout his first yr with the Falcons and first yr as an NFL coordinator.
“We’re continuously self-evaluating, or at the least I’m, to attempt to higher ourselves,” Sarkisian mentioned. “There’s by no means a second of rest, of feeling, ‘We’re good,’ so all the pieces is simply going to be OK and stay established order. I feel we continuously must preserve working at it, and that does not change. That is the method that I’m going by way of on a weekly foundation.
“I do not actually attempt to experience the highs and lows of the season. I attempt to be constant. I feel that is what’s actually necessary.”
The Falcons are nonetheless looking for offensive consistency heading into Thursday evening’s essential showdown with their NFC South rival, the division-leading New Orleans Saints (9-Three). At 7-5, the Falcons do not have a lot room for error with simply 4 video games left as they sit one spot behind Carolina (Eight-Four) for the NFC’s closing wild-card berth.
To beat the high-scoring Saints (29.Four factors per sport) and win down the stretch, the Falcons know they must click on on offense with reigning MVP Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and the potent operating again tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman main the way in which. However regardless of having all these weapons, together with threats reminiscent of Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper, the Falcons discover themselves scoring a pedestrian 22.Eight factors per sport after main the league at 33.Eight factors per contest a yr in the past. They’ve averaged 29.6 factors per sport of their seven wins and 13.Four factors per sport within the 5 losses. And so they’ve transformed 21 of 38 pink zone alternatives for 55.Three p.c, which is not dangerous however might be higher based mostly on their 61.9 p.c conversion charge in 2016.
The coaches and gamers refuse to mirror on final yr in evaluating the statistics, however the actuality is the offense hasn’t been as high-powered because it was final season.
Some would say it has to do with Kyle Shanahan, now the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach, now not calling the performs, regardless of the criticism of Shanahan’s Tremendous Bowl exhibiting. Some would say preseason accidents to Jones (toe surgical procedure) and Gabriel (decrease leg) stored them from being in live performance with Ryan to start out this season. Some would say the 19 drops by Ryan’s targets have been essentially the most important issue. Some would say the offensive line hasn’t achieved its half, though the Falcons have made essentially the most out of what has been tabbed an “common” group by consultants who performed the place. Some would say the run-pass steadiness was lacking throughout a three-game slide. And a few would say Ryan’s throws have been off at occasions, though he went by way of a three-game stretch — and profitable streak — the place he accomplished 70 p.c of his passes or higher.
However a lot of the finger-pointing usually is directed, if not on the head coach, on the playcaller, as Sarkisian freely acknowledged. After all, not each play name has labored. He most likely has visions of that jet sweep to Gabriel on fourth-and-goal in a loss at New England nonetheless dancing in his head. Issues bought significantly better in short-yardage conditions when Sarkisian put in the heavy bundle that includes gifted defensive sort out Dontari Poe.
From Week 1 till now, Sarkisian firmly believes, he has developed as a coordinator. He needed to step out of his consolation zone of engaged on the sideline, which he was accustomed to as a school head coach, to maneuver as much as the teaching sales space, as advised by head coach Dan Quinn. Sarkisian needed to develop and improve his communication with Ryan, firstly. Then he needed to decide one of the simplest ways to make the most of particular gamers, whether or not it meant conserving a receiver reminiscent of Jones in or out of the sport after operating a put up route or subbing Coleman for Freeman after Freeman broke a future.
“I feel all of these areas, naturally, I’ve grown to know moreso because the season’s gone on,” Sarkisian mentioned.
“As at all times, I wish to rating each time we get the ball to place us in one of the best place to win video games. … We have been an explosive offense, however I feel the most important factor right here for us closing this season out with some massive video games forward of us, beginning Thursday evening, is our capacity to attain touchdowns. I feel that is going to be an actual distinction in how this season closes out offensively for us.”
The gamers have stood firmly behind Sarkisian from the start. Whereas the main points behind the connection between Ryan and Shanahan may by no means go public, there appears to be real belief between Ryan and Sarkisian, as Sarkisian got here in and introduced some new wrinkles to the outside-zone scheme Shanahan had carried out.
“I feel Sark has been superior,” Ryan mentioned. “His consistency all year long has been actually, actually good. His persona kind, you recognize what you are getting from him each day. And I feel, from a participant, that is large. You respect that a lot of your coaches once they’re constant day in and time out; they’re very clear about what they anticipate from you.
“I feel he is achieved an important job of game-planning week in and week out. I feel we have seen that now. He is put us in good positions to make performs. And that is actually all you’ll be able to ask for from a coordinator and a coach.”
“His consistency all year long has been actually, actually good. His persona kind, you recognize what you are getting from him each day. And I feel, from a participant, that is large.”
Matt Ryan on Steve Sarkisian
Jones, who has been focused six occasions or fewer in 4 video games, with the Falcons going 2-2 in these video games, says he by no means misplaced religion in Sarkisian. “He is been doing a superb job for us; I am unable to complain,” Jones mentioned. “He attracts photographs up. We have simply been put in several conditions weekly. And we simply must get higher collectively.
“It is by no means like, ‘Nicely, it is the offensive coordinator, it is the quarterback, it is the operating again.’ All the things is all of us. … And Sark, he is a gamers’ coach. He is not caught in his methods. He listens. In case you come to him and say, ‘We are able to do that and beat them right here,’ he’ll draw it up. And it is at all times good when an offensive coordinator is like that as a result of they imagine of their guys. They know you are going to carry it to life.”
The Falcons had been humbled once they confronted a few top-five, bodily defenses in Minnesota and Carolina, dropping each video games and failing to achieve 20 factors in each. Sarkisian talked about what he realized from these matchups, with the Panthers coming to Atlanta for the regular-season finale and even the rival Saints — whom the Falcons play twice within the subsequent three weeks — improved defensively and significantly robust up entrance.
“I like to make use of the analogy of a batter in Main League Baseball,” Sarkisian mentioned. “These guys go to the plate and so they may see 5, six, eight pitches in an at-bat, and possibly a type of is a very good pitch to hit that they’ll actually drive the ball.
“While you’re enjoying actually good defenses on this league, we have now to capitalize on these pitches that we will hit — these actually good, clear alternatives to create explosive performs, to attain touchdowns — as a result of these sound defenses which are bodily up entrance, that cowl properly, that do not blow coverages, whenever you get the appears to be like you need, you actually need to reap the benefits of it.”
The Falcons have to hit some residence runs in the event that they hope to complete the season with a bang.