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The Falcons Must Overcome Their Road Woes Against The Vikings

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The Falcons are simply not a great road team, as FalcFans editor Aaron Freeman notes.

Andy Lyons

Aaron Freeman at FalcFans put together his usual list of weekly takeaways for the Falcons, and as always, it was a quality read. What stood out this week was the team's traditional fate on the road versus in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome, and as you might anticipate, it doesn't tell a great story about the Falcons' fortunes by plane, train or automobile.

The Falcons have scored about 4.2 more points and allowed 2.6 less points in home games versus away games since 2008.
The Falcons have a positive turnover margin of +30 at home, but only +1 on the road.

Or we could take a look at our dear friend Matt Ryan, whose home versus road splits are also dramatic.

Mattryan_medium

Credit to Aaron Freeman/FalcFans

The bottom line here is that Ryan is a slightly above average road quarterback, and one of the five best in the NFL at home. This isn't unheard of by any stretch of the imagination—Drew Brees lost 10% off his completion percentage and his rating dove 40 points (!) on the road versus home in 2013, making his split even more dramatic—but it is something we all would like Ryan to overcome. The Bengals' defense deserves credit, but you certainly saw that familiar split rearing its head for Ryan, considering he has 6 touchdowns against 0 interceptions at home this year and 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions on the road.

The entire team is similarly troubled, however. As Freeman notes, Mike Smith has a stellar 38-12 record at home and a mediocre 24-25 record in road games, pointing to a systemic issue that goes beyond the quarterback. To these eyes, the team doesn't go to the same productive well as often on the road, failing to spread the ball around to playmakers—we all saw that in the Bengals game—and sometimes falling into a familiar pattern of unproductive runs toward the middle of the line followed by either an ill-advised downfield strike or a short pass that falls short of a first down. We've all seen it happen.

The defense, meanwhile, seems to see a less significant drop-off in production, but seems to come up with fewer turnovers on the road. As you'll read in the linked piece, turnovers are so random as to be meaningless in evaluating a defense, so it's difficult to say why the Falcons take the ball away less on the road. It may just be bad luck, or an effect of better performances from the home teams.

The upshot? This is a legitimate problem, but a fixable one. If the Falcons give Matt Ryan better protection and he spreads the ball around, there's no reason why he can't be closer to Home Matt Ryan than Road Matt Ryan away from Georgia. Smart personnel groupings, better scheming and a few lucky turnovers going the Falcons' way should help on the defensive side of the ball, as well, though there's no panacea for a defense that simply doesn't have the personnel to be truly great.

The upcoming road stretch will give the Falcons a chance to show legitimate improvement against the likes of the Vikings and Giants, which is probably the best opportunity the Falcons could get outside of playing Tampa Bay twice in two weeks. I'm optimistic we'll see modest but concrete gains.

Be sure to go read Freeman's entire piece, and tell us how you expect the Falcons to fare on the road in 2014.