How in the World Can the Falcons Fix Their Red Zone Problems?
They are currently ranked 29th in the NFL according to TeamRankings.com. And if that doesn't get fixed, they won't be a great team at all this year and could miss the playoffs. The Falcons have only lost by one touchdown or less in their three games.
And when that happens, the only thing to point to is a red zone offense that can't score touchdowns and has to settle for field goals. The Falcons do see the problem, as the official team website has noted.
But how will they really fix it?
Here are a few ways they can resolve their red zone offense.
Balance the Play-Calling with More Runs
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On the Falcons 50 plays they have called in the red zone, they have run a total of 38 passing plays and 12 running plays. That's a passing play called 76 percent of the time they are in the red zone.
Against the Patriots alone, they only ran one running play
That's completely unacceptable.
There's no possible way to win in the red zone if you have no balance. The Falcons have to make sure that they get the ball to Jacquizz Rodgers, Steven Jackson and Jason Snelling in the red zone.
They need to run more rushing sets so that they can throw the defense off balance as well. Bring in more running sets and let the backs make plays with the ball. It also wouldn't hurt to run to the right more often in the red zone either.
On the eight runs to the middle or the left, the Falcons only gained eight total yards. But on the four runs to the right side, they gained 21 yards and scored a touchdown. The Falcons need to run a lot more in the red zone.
And they need to run it to the right side of the field instead of the left.
Quit Forcing a Fullback to Be on the Field for Running Plays
Losing Ewing in back-to-back years hurts
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While the Falcons run the ball a lot in general, the only time they run in the red zone is when there is a fullback out there. They telegraph it, and their fullback—journeyman Patrick DiMarco—isn't even that good to begin with to where they have to get him on the field.
The Falcons could replace his roster spot and role in the offense by adding a tight end or even adding another offensive lineman. The Falcons starting fullbacks have averaged 10 snaps in the four games played this season.
These 10 snaps could easily be traded out for 10 more plays that have either Levine Toilolo, Chase Coffman or another lineman in there.
Run More Sets with More Than Five Offensive Linemen
Mike Johnson filled the role last year
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One thing the Falcons did in 2012 that they have yet to duplicate in 2013 is the use of multiple offensive linemen on the field. If they decide to finally start using Ryan Schraeder, Lamar Holmes, Harland Gunn or Joe Hawley as a sixth offensive lineman on a regular basis it would help both in pass protection and run blocking.
Unfortunately, they have yet to do so.
A big part of this failure stems from losing last year's sixth offensive lineman Mike Johnson to injury during training camp. Had the Falcons been able to stay completely healthy through training camp, Johnson could have reprised his role at a minimum.
If the Falcons can finally start to use more than five offensive linemen, they will have better pass protection—which has been needed—and better run push.
However, they need the extra lineman in the run game and should they use it, they will be way more successful in the red zone.
Run More Multiple Tight End Sets
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The Falcons this year have yet to run some effective multiple tight end sets. They rarely have Levine Toilolo on the field and have used Chase Coffman on special teams only this season despite keeping him active every single game.
This is a travesty. They have three very good tight ends and need some big bodies to make plays in the red zone. Yet, they haven't used very many multiple tight end sets or even had Tony Gonzalez lined out wide with either Toilolo or Coffman in-line at tight end.
They could even line up with all three of their tight ends on the field to try and create some mismatches.
But they need to do something other than continually run with the same three wide receivers or one tight end, two running back sets that they have been running.
Use Height and Athleticism to Their Advantage
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The Falcons have three tight ends who are over 6'4" in Tony Gonzalez at 6'5", Chase Coffman at 6'6" and Levine Toilolo at 6'8". At receiver, not a single member of the roster is under 6'0" with Julio Jones topping out at 6'3". At running back, there are three guys who are 5'11" or taller.
Will all of this size in the red zone, why are the Falcons just not bullying other teams with it? Why are they not using this size and athleticism to their advantage? Why are they not calling routes that can isolate their best receivers in the red zone?
Why are they not using those three tight ends on the same play and just throwing it up there? These are things that need to change. The Falcons have too much talent that is built specifically for the red zone. They need to score many more touchdowns to make the investment in this talent worth it.
Because between the power backs of Snelling and Jackson to the outside ground speed of Jacquizz Rodgers to the size that all of the wide receivers and tight ends have, there's no reason for Atlanta to be held out of the end zone as much as they have been this year.
Call Play Action
The single biggest thing missing from the play-calling in the red zone is a complete lack of play action passes. Atlanta has called less than a hand full of play action passes, but has been very successful when they have as two of their red zone touchdowns this season have come off of it.
Questions about the running game make it tougher, but if the Falcons just call more running plays, the threat of a run will open up the threat of a play action. And with more play-action, the Falcons can draw the linebackers up and open the intermediate routes for the tight ends.
Basically, it's just another wrinkle to throw into the mix. But it's a wrinkle the Falcons need to use. Between this and a lack of screen plays, the Falcons haven't been running the same kind of offense they did last year in the red zone.
Put the Best 11 Men on the Field for the Situation
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It's 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 from the opponent's 3-yard line. What personnel package does Atlanta throw out there?
If you guessed the logical two-tight end, two-running back package with an extra lineman in there to gain at least the yard to get four more chances at the end zone, you'd be 100 percent wrong.
Nope, instead, Atlanta opts for 11 personnel or just one tight end and one running back with three receivers.
And instead of calling a run play to try and gain that singular yard, they miss on consecutive passes and kick a field goal. So why do the Falcons not put the best 11 men on the field for that situation?
It looks like they are over-coaching right now to try and get something to happen. Don't over think it. Don't worry if they can see it coming. The red zone offense is about imposing your will on the other team.
And Atlanta has been unable to do that.
They need to take a lesson from the 2010 Falcons who would line up in that 22 personnel and just pound the rock up the middle with no remorse in that kind of situation. They need to make sure the personnel on the field matches the situation on the field.
This is the biggest issue with the offense in the red zone. And it's the thing the offense does the best at when they are out of the red zone. And that's no coincidence.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.