Concerns linger for Atlanta's red zone offense though overall numbers better this year

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Georgia — Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have improved their red zone efficiency, statistically speaking, from last year.

But Sunday's 10-point loss at the New York Giants showed that the offense is still flawed when advancing to the 20-yard line.

The Falcons (2-3) began the game ranked second in NFL red zone efficiency, but two first-half drives to the 2-yard line resulted in a pair of field goals.

Ryan stated the obvious, that the offense wasn't "as efficient as we needed to be in the red zone."

And coach Mike Smith says he has "all the confidence in the world" that Atlanta's personnel and schemes are sound enough to score touchdowns.

Maybe so, but in losing 10 of 11 on the road, red zone problems are still a big concern. The offense looked more like the unit that finished last year's 4-12 season ranked No. 22 inside the opponents' 20.

"We had four or five snaps inside the 3-yard line during the ballgame," Smith said. "When you have those, you've got to make people pay. You've got to score touchdowns when you're down there."

That's easier said than done, particularly behind an offensive line that had a new starter at left guard for the first time in 102 games as Harland Gunn replaced Justin Blalock.

In preparing to host the Chicago Bears (2-3) this weekend, the Falcons hope that Blalock will return from a back injury. The line lost starting center Joe Hawley and starting tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes to season-ending injuries last month.

Peter Konz, who started at center for the first time since last year's blowout home loss to Seattle in Week 10, thought the line, as a unit, played better than some had expected.

Ryan was only sacked once, but that came on a fourth-and-one and ended with a 9-yard loss to the Atlanta 19, setting up the Giants' final score.

"There's a lot of technique stuff and a few mental errors that we have to correct," Konz said. "If we do that, some of the choppiness that we felt during the game will be cleaned up."

Receiver Roddy White lamented a missed block on second-and-goal from the 2 that allowed Mike Patterson and Johnathan Hankins to tackle running back Steven Jackson for a 2-yard loss.

On the next play, Antone Smith was stopped 3 yard short after catching a shovel pass.

"We had some good red zone calls," White said. "We had one play where we blocked it wrong, but that's all stuff that you can fix. You've just got to go out there and get those guys on the ground and it's a walk-in touchdown. It's just little assignments and things we've got to correct and we'll be fine."

Two possessions later, Ryan threw incomplete passes from the 2 on misfires to White and Jacquizz Rodgers.

Other than Antone Smith's 74-yard touchdown catch midway through the third quarter — putting the Falcons up by 10 points — the second half was essentially a disaster.

Atlanta finished the game just 2 for 13 on third-down chances, 1 for 8 in the last two quarters.

"When you're going against a good football team on the road, you've got to take advantage of those opportunities, but it is disappointing," Ryan said. "We had a lead in the second half and we weren't able to get the job done offensively when we needed to."

Coach Smith, as he did several times during last year's meltdown, put the blame of the offense's problems on himself.

"Ultimately, there's one person who's held responsible for the outcome of the football game and that's me," Smith said. "We've got to do a better job of putting our guys in the position and when the opportunities come up, we've got to be putting our guys in better situations."


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