Playing a game of word association with the Falcons’ offense can be entertaining.
Fitful. Uneven. Spasmodic. Sputtering.
Those are just a few words to describe the attack under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian, which has moved the ball down the field only to shoot itself in the foot with inconsistent play on third downs, poor execution in short-yardage situations, dropped passes and the untimely penalty.
The Falcons (4-4) start the second half of the season against the Dallas Cowboys (5-3) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I think the one thing for me is the value of consistency for us throughout four quarters of the game,” Sarkisian said. “I think every game so far, we’ve had a play two, three or four, here and there, that have really hindered our kind of consistency on offense and our overall success on offense.”
All of the Falcons’ offensive problems have been exacerbated by the inability to score and touchdowns in the third quarter this season, which screams of the lack of half-time adjustments.
The big-play-only formula worked against the New York Jets on Oct. 29, but hasn’t been successful as a whole. The Falcons used a 53-yard bomb to Julio Jones and a 52-yard scamper by running back Tevin Coleman to power them to a 25-20 victory over the Jets.
“Big picture, I think we’ve been explosive on offense, and I think it’s shows up (not only) in numbers, but you feel it,” Sarkisian said. “We have the ability in games to get yards in chunks.”
Also, the Falcons’ only third-quarter touchdown this season was a 15-yard fumble returned for a touchdown by cornerback Desmond Trufant. The Falcons have scored only 19 points – four field goals and the Trufant touchdown -- in the third quarter this season.
The Falcons have started games well, outscoring the oppositions 44-14 in the first quarter. But then, they start sliding. They’ve been outscored 71-60 in the second quarter and 43-19 in the third.
Fourth-quarter rallies have come up short against Buffalo, Miami and Carolina, as they’ve been outscored 47-44 in the final period. The Falcons never were in the game against New England, as they fell behind 23-0.
They held on for victories against Chicago and Detroit. The jumped all over Green Bay, but then let the Packers come back and make the final score look respectable at 34-23.
“I think that’s something that we are really striving for heading into this game and into the second half of the season, that consistency regardless of the situation, whether it is a third-down situation, red zone, goal line, whatever that might be, our consistency in what we are doing, while we are doing it and then ultimately the execution of it,” Sarkisian said.
The Falcons are converting on 40 percent of their third-down situations, which ranks 14th in the NFL.
They’ve been repeatedly stymied in short-yardage situations, including last week against Carolina, when they were 2-of-4 on third-and-1 plays and failed to convert a fourth-and-1.
The Falcons have scored touchdowns on 51.85 percent of their trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, which ranks 18th in the league. Sarkisian desires a 65 percent rate.
The Falcons have dropped 16 passes, which ranks third in the league.
“That’s the challenge, and that’s what we continue to work on, identifying where our issues are and then emphasizing those things,” Sarkisian said. “Putting in the extra work into short yardage, into the third downs, we emphasis the red area, and we went 2-for-2 last week. You get what you emphasize in our profession mostly.
“You emphasize something, and you expect to get results.”
Sarkisian doesn’t buy the notion that the ball, literally, is just not bouncing the Falcons’ way.
“You create your own luck through preparation,” Sarkisian said. “Whether or not the ball has bounced our way is really irrelevant. We have to put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan believes getting the running game moving will aid the offense immensely.
“We’re close,” Ryan said. “We had some good runs in the game the other day against a good defense that’s tough to run the ball against.”
The line needs to hit on their combination blocks better.
“Our run game is about combination blocking, and those guys doing a great job and our backs being patient in setting up those blocks and then cutting off of them,” Ryan said. “We have to stick with it and trust that those runs are going to come.”
Wide receiver Julio Jones believes the offense can put things together.
“We have to go out here and put a complete game together,” Jones said. “We haven’t played our best ball yet.”
Jones senses the unit is pulling together.
“Just being in here, the energy is good,” Jones said. “People are not moping around and things like that. We have talent. We have the guys. We have all that we need. We just have to keep battling and make those plays.”
Jones is tired of analyzing why the offense is under-performing.
“We have to score and put up points,” Jones said. “We can. ... We are very high-powered offensively.”
Sarkisian concurs with Jones.
“At some point, maybe that dam will break,” Sarkisian said. “It’s going to turn, and we might get some of those breaks. We need to create those breaks on own by doing what we need to do in or process.
“We can’t always expect to hit 30- and 40-yard plays to carve out these 10- and 12-play drives. To do that, you need to convert third downs.”