After failing to score touchdowns in five of six possessions inside New England’s 20 last week in a 30-23 loss, the Falcons rank 29th in the league in red-zone production.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Wednesday the reason for optimism is the offense is providing so many opportunities. Atlanta leads the NFL with 18 scoring chances inside the 20.
The obvious bad news is the Falcons have scored only seven touchdowns in those 18 opportunities for a 38.9-percent success rate.
Better production was expected from an offense stacked with accomplished stars in quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Steven Jackson.
Jackson, signed from the Rams in the offseason, was seen as the missing piece on a team that played in last year’s NFC championship game following a 13-3 season.
The Falcons (1-3) already have matched last season’s loss total. Atlanta needs better red-zone production in Monday night’s game against the New York Jets to snap the first two-game regular-season skid since 2009.
“It’s frustrating and encouraging at the same time because we’ve made a lot of those plays in the past,” Koetter said. “We have really good players and they’ve made plays in the past, so that’s why it’s an across-the-board issue. It would be a simple thing to solve if we could just say ‘It’s this one thing. Let’s fix it.’ But it’s more than that.”
Injuries have been a problem.
Jackson could miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury. White has played in every game, but has been slowed by an ankle sprain. The offensive line lost projected starting right tackle Mike Johnson before the season and could be without left tackle Sam Baker (knee) this week.
The Falcons were excited about the role Jackson would play in short-yardage situations and in the red zone. Koetter, who said running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have played well, wouldn’t blame the red-zone woes on Jackson’s injury.
“Sure, we’re anxious to get Steven back,” Koetter said. “At the same time, Jacquizz and Jason are doing a really nice job during his absence. We want Steven back out there as soon as we can get him back out there for the long haul. Whenever that is, the docs and trainers will let us know.”
Jackson did not practice Tuesday. The team was off Wednesday.
Ryan accepted blame for the missed scoring chances against the Patriots. The Falcons’ last scoring opportunity ended when Ryan’s pass for White in the end zone was a little off, allowing cornerback Aqib Talib to bat away the ball.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said the problems are “not just one area, not just one group.”
“We had some protection issues, we had some routes that weren’t run right, we had some drops, we had some missed throws,” Smith said. “I can assure you we are addressing it as a coaching staff with our team.”
Koetter said with just a little better success inside the 20, the Falcons could be one of the league’s most productive offenses.
“If you just score three more touchdowns, 55 percent in the red zone is going to get you top 10 in the NFL every year,” he said.
That’s little consolation this week.
“The bottom line is we’re not making the plays, so as a coaching staff we’ve got to give them better plays and the players, whatever we do give them, they’ve got to make the best of it,” Koetter said. “That’s just the bottom line. We’ve got to do better.”