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Falcons vs. Panthers: Do Offensive Woes Predict Quick Playoff Exit for Atlanta?

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 09:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls a play during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 9, 2012

It’s a good thing that the Atlanta Falcons have three more weeks—and possibly a fourth, with a first-round bye—to prepare for the playoffs. If the postseason ended today, Atlanta wouldn’t last long.

The Falcons dropped their Week 14 game to the Carolina Panthers Sunday, 30-20, but worse than the 10-point loss was the ineffective play of the offense.

With an offense that features one of the best dual-threat wide receiver options in the NFL in Roddy White and Julio Jones, a future Hall of Fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez who might be the best to ever play the position and a quarterback in Matt Ryan who was mentioned in MVP talks for the better part of the year, Atlanta’s offense should be potent, if not deadly, every single game.

But the Falcons managed just 362 total net yards Sunday and didn’t advance into the red zone until the 6:30 mark of the third quarter. Atlanta was severely thumped in the time of possession battle, especially in the first half. The offense was only on the field for 6:12 in the first half and only had three possessions, all ending in punts.

Ryan did throw for 342 yards, but most of those came against a softened Panthers defense that was deep, defending against a big play. The Falcons did manage 20 points after not scoring in the first half. But seven of those came from a garbage rushing touchdown by Michael Turner at the end of the game.

Speaking of the 20 points scored Sunday by the Falcons, since Week 9, Atlanta is averaging 22.6 points per game and has only scored more than 25 once in six games.

Ryan’s offense is far from deadly of late, and one of the main culprits is its failings on third down.

Atlanta converted on third downs Sunday just 25 percent of the time (2-for-8). Count the last two efforts for the Falcons, and their third-down conversion rate is just 15.8 percent (3-for-19). The Falcons have not been able to move the chains, and the offense has been off-kilter for some time.

The third-down inefficiency isn’t just troubling the offense. The Falcons had terrible difficulty getting off the field on defense against the Panthers.

Carolina was 9-for-15 on third downs Sunday, and Cam Newton wreaked havoc on Atlanta’s defense when it desperately needed a stop to get off the field.

It’s never a good situation when a team’s best asset—and it’s easy to agree that Atlanta’s offense, when running smoothly, is its most valuable weapon—is struggling mightily. The question remains: Is there enough to time to fix the issue?

After watching, first hand, the Green Bay Packers find all the momentum in the world in 2010 once the playoffs hit and win the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed from the NFC, after being pummeled by the New York Giants last year in the first round of the playoffs after they found the perfect time to get hot, Atlanta knows that the regular season doesn’t mean a lot in terms of the Super Bowl. Getting to the playoffs is goal No. 1.

But between now and the first time Atlanta will have to step onto the field for a postseason game, will there be enough time to fix the problems facing Dirk Koetter and the offense?

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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