Atlanta knifed through the opening portion of the season with an explosive offense that has sputtered after averaging 32.4 points per game after the first five games. Since the overtime win versus Washington, the Falcons have averaged 16.8 points per game while dropping three of the last four games. The one game they did win was an uninspiring 10-7 victory over the beleaguered Tennessee Titans, who were starting Zach Mettenberger at quarterback.
The fanbase has predictably grown impatient with the drop off in production and there seem to be a few common complaints with the offense. The bye week is great time to evaluate and validate (or invalidate) current concerns.
1. They never throw the deep ball!/Roddy White is always open and they never throw to him!
These were actually two separate complaints, but they correlate so heavily that they should be treated as one. Roddy White's struggles this season have been well documented; he currently has a measly 17 catches for 230 yards and 1 touchdown through nine games. Those numbers are abysmal, but placing most of the blame on Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan is ludicrous.
Truthfully, Roddy White isn't a good receiver anymore and hasn't been since the 2012 season. It's a bit surprising that people expect a 34 year old receiver to magically produce when his production has declined the past two seasons.
Since Kyle Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator, his offenses have typically been centered around the abilities of the best receiver on the team. While Julio Jones is rightfully carrying the bulk of the passing game, the number two receiver has to be fairly competent in his own right.
The "chunk plays" that the Falcons have been missing are due more to the incapability of Roddy White to effectively run the routes that forces defenses to respect every skill player on the field. Here's an example from the Falcons game against Washington.
Julio Jones taking triple coverage running deep, Roddy has to be able to seize advantage of man coverage he's going to receive. He can't effectively run the route combinations that produce big plays, like the one above.
Atlanta is facing the perfect storm regarding the elimination of their deep threat: Julio is facing double and triple coverage, and Leonard Hankerson, who is explosive enough to run these longer routes, has been hurt, and Roddy doesn't have the burst to run these routes anymore.
Kyle Shanahan is facing a lot of flak for "not adjusting," but he has adjusted by relegating the Falcons offense to a more conservative dink and dunk type offense. There's no one else to fear on the offense, and Roddy White just can't be the answer anymore.
There are certain times when Roddy is open, but he hasn't shown Matt Ryan any reason (this season) to trust him in high pressure situations. The receiving corp is a mess right now. Improving it has to be one of the top priorities in the offseason.
2. They never turn to Devonta Freeman in the redzone!
This issue is a bit more complicated than simply not giving Freeman the ball in the redzone. Over the past month the Falcons offense has sputtered in the redzone mainly due to bizarre turnovers. Poor snaps, fumbles at the point of exchange between Ryan and Freeman, and unfortunate interceptions have been the reason why Freeman hasn't seen the ball in the redzone.
This isn't really anyone's fault, just freakish turnovers that should even themselves out over time. Before Atlanta kicked the field goal that cost them the game in San Francisco, they were effectively throwing the ball in the redzone. In a situation like this, there isn't really any reason to divert from what's working. Once the ridiculous turnovers stop, Freeman should see a healthy amount of redzone opportunities down the home stretch of the season.
3. Matt Ryan holds on to the ball too long, he's got tons of time in the pocket.
Ryan holding the ball too long in the pocket really goes hand in hand with the first issue of Roddy not being the receiver that he once was. There's also a strong relationship between Leonard Hankerson going down against the Titans and the passing attack coming to a screeching halt.
The pass protection is leagues better than it was a year ago, even if it's come back to Earth a bit after a sky high start. The biggest reason for Ryan holding on to the ball too long is that no one is consistently getting open besides Julio Jones. It has become abundantly clear over the past four or five games that the lack of a competent number two receiver is hurting this offense more than Ryan is (no matter how many jokes are made on Twitter).
This isn't to say Ryan is playing well, because he isn't. He's been fairly inaccurate over the past month, missing throws to the sideline and heaving throws to Julio Jones in triple coverage. Right now the Falcons offense is building up great stats between twenties, but points aren't being put on the scoreboard. It's a junk, volume-based offense that hasn't been particularly effective.
As amazing as Devonta Freeman has been this season, the Falcons offense is hampered by him being the second best receiving threat on the team.
4. Kyle Shanahan calls the same five pass plays over and over again.
There isn't any claim with less credibility than this one. If the same complaints were made about the running game, it would make sense, but even then most teams have three or four run concepts that make up the bulk of their rushing attack.
Shanahan has been forced to mix it up through the air because of the limitations at wide receiver. In year one of his coaching tenure in Atlanta, it's a bit perplexing that so many fans have taken issue with his play calling halfway through the season. Reflecting on last year, he's been a major improvement over previous offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Shanahan was given a patchwork offensive line and unproven weapons at running back and receiver, yet the Falcons offense was soaring through the early part of the season.
Give Dan Quinn and the coaching staff a few offseasons to get "their guys" into the system. This team won a whopping total of ten games the past two seasons; they still have a great shot to surpass or equal that total in this season alone.