The Atlanta Falcons need sky-proof umbrellas after being mauled by the Carolina Panthers. After getting their tail feathers handed to them in a 30-20 loss, the Falcons are the target of plenty of "I told you so" comments. Despite all the gloom and doom, the Falcons' biggest weakness on offense came to light.
It is also their easiest to fix. How? Don't.
Same Song Different Verse
The 2012 Atlanta Falcons are a different animal than the Mularkey-led offense of the past four years. What was once their biggest strength is now their Achilles heel.
In years past, the Falcons have excelled in controlling the time of possession. A stout run game and strong short passing game served the Falcons well before Dirk Koetter took over as offensive coordinator. But even in the later months of 2011, it became obvious that Matt Ryan was far more efficient in the no-huddle.
In 2012, the Falcons have struggled to dominate for four quarters in any given game. Fast starts against the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints turned into fourth quarter nail-biters despite the final scores. The Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders looked like world beaters until it mattered most. There is a reason Matt Ryan has six game-winning drives in 2012.
The loss to the Panthers is a shining example of what has slowed the Falcons as the season has progressed. After the Panthers opened the game with a scoring drive that took over seven minutes off the clock, the Falcons appeared more concerned about resting the defense than scoring. Predictably, they sputtered. The Panthers went back to work chewing clock and scoring points.
The Falcons failed to score in the first half, and Ryan managed only 40 yards through the air.
Tempo Is Key
When under pressure, the Falcons are one of the best teams in the league. In the second half of Sunday's game, the Falcons came out flat. They squandered an opportunity to shift momentum after getting the ball to start the third quarter. It was not until they found themselves in a 23-0 hole that the Falcons released the hand brake.
The Falcons switched to an up-tempo offense that relied heavily on the no-huddle. Ryan found his rhythm and churned out over seven times the passing yards as he did in the first half (40 yards first half, 302 yards in second).
After passing for two touchdowns, Ryan was forced into an interception on a fourth-down desperation play. Even with the game out of reach, the Falcons still pressed their way down the field for a final scoring drive.
As Matt Ryan acknowledged on the Atlanta Falcons Radio Network after the game, "it was too little too late."
Stop Waiting, Stop Stopping
The Falcons have seen it all season, but Sunday is the first time it cost them a game. In several games, the offense struggled with futility when trying to be a ball control offense. In a squeaker against the Dallas Cowboys, the Falcons almost seemed to be waiting on something to happen.
Against the Denver Broncos, the Falcons started the game determined to make something happen and took a quick lead. Coasting in the second half, the Falcons allowed Peyton Manning to make the game much closer than it should have been.
If the Atlanta Falcons want to end their run of one-and-done, their is a simple fix to their ball control issues: forget about it.
Ryan and the offense are at their best when moving quickly. When Ryan is focused solely on positive yards, his reads are faster and there is more zip on his passes. Likewise, the less time the receivers have to get manhandled, the greater the chance of turning a checkdown into a touchdown.
Ryan's constant adjustments at the line of scrimmage will handle the clock and allow the defense to catch its breath.
Otherwise, there will be no tomorrow for the Falcons once the playoffs arrive.