FLOWERY BRANCH — All of the key players on the Falcons’ offense, from quarterback Matt Ryan to rookie right guard Peter Konz, believe the key to this season could be tied to scoring more touchdowns when they crash through the opponent’s 20-yard line.
The area is commonly known as the red zone. Some teams have dubbed it the “green zone” because that’s where money is made if touchdowns are scored, especially in the playoffs.
The Falcons, despite ranking 11th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency, at 56.4 percent, want to climb higher among the league leaders.
Several NFC teams and possible playoff opponents score at a higher clip in the red zone, including top-ranked New Orleans (71.4), Green Bay (67.8), Tampa Bay (66.6) and San Francisco (61.54). Also, Carolina (62.5) and Detroit (61.7) are scoring touchdowns at a higher rate than the Falcons in the red zone.
Last season, the Falcons scored touchdowns on 51.67 percent of their trips to the red zone.
“We want the touchdown percentage up higher,” running back Michael Turner said. “We need to score touchdowns, especially against these offenses that we are going to play. We have to put up points.”
The Falcons had an epic red-zone failure Sunday against New Orleans, when they couldn’t score after driving the ball to the 1-yard line with 1:56 left to play in the game, which they lost 31-27.
But Turner believes that the Falcons having to settle for a field goal on their second possession was key, too. Instead of a touchdown, Matt Bryant booted a 37-yard field goal after Turner was stopped for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-1, foreshadowing how dialed in the Saints were to the Falcons’ short-yardage run game.
Scoring more touchdowns will help the Falcons finish off teams and break their spirit. It’s the key to the team developing a killer instinct, a vital trait of championship-level teams.
Because of red-zone woes, the Falcons went down to the wire in victories over Carolina, Oakland and Dallas. They were 1-of-4 against Carolina, 1-of-2 against Oakland and 1-of-4 against Dallas on their red-zone trips.
“(Scoring touchdowns) breaks teams, and it puts them away a little bit,” Turner said. “When they hold you to a field goal they get a little energy.”
After dropping their first game last week in a thriller to the Saints, the Falcons have probably over-analyzed things.
“It probably would have been a different ballgame if we went up 14 instead of 10,” Turner said. “But you never know, it’s hindsight now. We just have to take care of the football and get in the end zone.”
Through nine games, the Falcons have improved over last season.
“We just have to execute a little bit better,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “When the play is called, we have to go out there as players and make sure it happens. We have a good scheme. But give defenses credit. We have to keep tweaking it and keep working on it.”
Several things have happened to stop the Falcons in the red zone. The biggest impediment has been the short-yardage rushing attack, but on the final play of the game against the Saints, Roddy White was open, but Ryan didn’t have enough time to throw a pass in front of White.
“If it’s not 100 percent, we know that we can improve,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, we needed it last week, and we couldn’t get it done. It’s going to come up again, and hopefully we’ll be able to score when we have to.”
With White, Gonzalez and Julio Jones, the Falcons have weapons who are tough to defend. Against the Saints, the Falcons tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to offensive lineman Mike Johnson, who lined up as a tight end, so they do get creative at times.
“For the last two or three weeks we’ve been struggling down there,” White said.
Over the past three games, the Falcons have converted on only 42.8 percent of their red-zone trips.
“That’s been a big concern for us,” White said. “We’ve got to get a whole lot better in that area of the field. That’s an area where we are supposed to excel.”
OTHER RECENT STORIES
Mike Smith says no major injury for Peria Jerry