Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Falcons fun! The wacky ways of a Kyle Shanahan offense


The Atlanta Falcons ran 64 plays against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Twelve either lost yardage or gained nothing. (This number includes sacks, of which there were three, but doesn't include incomplete passes, of which there were also 12. Nor does it include the kneel-down that ended the first half after the kickoff following Charles Sims III's touchdown that saw him fake out everyone on the roster.)

Here we stipulate that no team every has had a game where every called play yielded a first down if not a touchdown. Lost-yardage plays happen all the time. But they happened to the Falcons on their first and second drives of the first quarter; their first and second drives of the second quarter; their only two drives of the third quarter and their first and second drives of the fourth quarter. And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but this seems symptomatic of Kyle Shanahan's offense, such as it is.

Plus side: The Falcons gained 374 yards against Tampa Bay. Minus side: They scored what has become their weekly allotment of touchdowns -- one per half. They lost by a touchdown after trailing 31-13. They were 1-for-4, touchdown-wise, in the red zone. Indeed, the game turned when Dan Quinn -- not Shanahan; Quinn took credit/blame for this one -- ordered a draw play on third-and-goal from the 17 late in the first half.

"We had the points," Quinn said, speaking of the resulting field goal that gave his team a fleeting 13-10 lead. But three points, duh, are not seven. After Jameis Winston led the Buccaneers downfield and Sims scored his rather amazing touchdown, Tampa Bay was back ahead. It took the second-half kickoff -- it had deferred after winning the coin toss -- and scored again. Then it scored again.

The Falcons had 18 points to make up. They managed 11. Taking the ball at their 9 with 1:50 left, they mustered one first down and 19 yards. As final possessions go, it was the dampest of squibs.

Back to Shanahan. He dialed up some neat stuff in this game -- the inside handoffs, the shovel passes, the dual deployment of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as virtual wingbacks. That Coleman catching the ball was the best thing the Falcons did proved a nice thing but not necessarily a good thing. See, a running back caught more passes than Julio Jones, who's the NFL's best receiver.

The Falcons were 3-for-13 on third down, which brings us back to those lost-or-no-yardage plays. Here were the 10 misses: Third-and-9, third-and-6, third-and-7, third-and-9, the aforementioned third-and-17, third-and-14, third-and-3, third-and-3, third-and-8 and third-and-10. Shanahan's curlicues would either pop big or get blown up. The whole thing seemed ... disjointed.

After the Falcons pulled within 10 after Ryan found Jones for a touchdown and Mohamed Sanu for a 2-point conversion, you thought, "Matt Ryan's getting into one of those grooves." Like in the second half in Green Bay on Monday night two years ago. Like the second half in Dallas last September. But come the climactic possession, Ryan's mellow had been harshed, if I'm allowed to lapse into hippie-speak. One completion to Jacob Tamme. Then four incompletions. Ballgame.

I don't doubt that Shanahan has a fine football mind. I do doubt -- even more after Sunday's loss -- that he's the right OC for Ryan. (I wonder what Quinn really thinks, not that Mr. Bright Side would tell us.) Stat-wise, Ryan had a nice game: 334 yards passing, no turnovers, a passer rating of 112.6. But his team scored its two touchdowns and lost to an opponent that scored four.

The game in miniature: With 6:18 remaining and the Falcons down by 10, Freeman burst up the middle for seven yards to the TB 6. That was a nice call. The Falcons could have done anything on second-and-three. (Throwing to a tight end off play-action is always nice.) They chose a toss-sweep to Freeman that lost five yards. On a day when their offensive line delivered the mildest of surges, they chose a toss-sweep. Wow.

They wound up -- stop me if you've heard this before -- not scoring a touchdown. Drawing within three points of a road team playing behind a second-year quarterback would have changed the dynamics. By managing only a field goal, the Falcons put Tampa Bay under pressure but not quite duress. The Bucs generated two first downs and bled off three minutes and forced Quinn to exhaust his timeouts before they punted.

Dirk Koetter and Famous Jameis managed the game. It was unclear what Shanahan and Quinn managed, except to lose.

Super informative reading:

The Falcons open the season by laying an egg.

The more I see, the more I doubt the Falcons.

The Falcons' past (Koetter and Smitty) could enhance the Bucs' future.

You call it: Quinn/Shanahan/Ryan or Koetter/Smitty/Jameis?


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.