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A closer look: The Falcons find red zone success against Tampa Bay

The offense has been inconsistent in the red zone this season. They showed different looks and benefitted from being more unpredictable against Tampa Bay.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Due to two games taking place in four days last week, I didn’t have enough time to put together this piece earlier. With everything back to normal, it will become a weekly feature. I always rewatch the previous Falcons game and posts GIFs on Twitter of the most standout plays or disappointing decisions. One particular player, positional group, or situation is excluded from the film review to be saved for this piece.

The Falcons have been wildly inconsistent in the red zone. Before their second half explosion against Oakland, they were one for seven on red zone opportunities. It became a celebration, if the offense managed to score a touchdown. With Atlanta’s offense leading the league in several categories, there has been obvious improvement. Converting four of five red zone opportunities against Tampa Bay was essential in their first lopsided victory of the season. Here are some of the red zone plays that made a difference last Thursday.

1st quarter: 1st and 10 at TB 14

This was Atlanta’s lone blemish in the red zone. Only two wide receivers are running routes. It’s a strange play call, as it doesn’t give Matt Ryan many receiving options. Tampa Bay drops six into coverage with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu struggling to find any openings. Ryan is forced to throw the pass away, despite receiving excellent protection. Not a strong start.

1st quarter: 3rd and 7 at TB 11

This is another odd play call on the same drive. It appears that Austin Hooper and Taylor Gabriel are trying to run a rub route design. Hooper sets an inverted pick, yet both players end up in the same area. Lavonte David jams Hooper, while Gabriel’s route doesn’t fool anybody. If the explosive wide receiver ran a quick slant, an opening may have been there. Kwon Alexander and both safeties directed their attention to Jones. Gabriel would only have to beat Vernon Hargreaves III. With Noah Spence beating Jake Matthews off the edge, Ryan is forced to throw it away again.

2nd quarter: 2nd and 7 at TB 9

After finding success with it on the first drive, Kyle Shanahan goes back to Gabriel for another jet sweep. The first sweep gained 15 yards to the left side. Shanahan shifted the play design to the right side, as Tampa Bay’s defense was left scrambling again. Levine Toilolo makes an excellent block on David to spring Gabriel. That is more than enough for a wide receiver, who ran a 4.28 in a 40-yard dash during his Pro Day to score here.  It was great to see Shanahan trying different concepts and utilizing their fastest receiver. Without Tevin Coleman, Gabriel proved to be a suitable option for both jet sweeps.

3rd quarter: 2nd and Goal at TB 1

When it comes to scoring near the goal line, creativity may be required. A simple play action fake allows Ryan to find Patrick DiMarco for an easy touchdown. David is forced to track down DiMarco, but collides with Bradley McDougald. He immediately recognizes the play, yet it doesn’t matter with Toilolo running a route on the same side. Unlike most offensive coordinators, Shanahan uses a full back and will incorporate them into the passing game. DiMarco has caught six passes in nine games this season. The coaching staff’s willingness to feature a fullback has greatly benefitted this offense.

3rd quarter: 2nd and 2 at TB 11

There is nothing flashy about this play. The offensive line does a tremendous job to open up a gaping hole for Terron Ward. Andy Levitre and Alex Mack double-team Gerald McCoy, which takes him out. DiMarco doesn’t allow David to overpower him. His block gives Ward room to operate and pick up the first down. If Devonta Freeman takes this carry, it likely ends in a touchdown. This is still an outstanding job by the offensive line, who took over in the second half.

3rd quarter: 2nd and Goal at TB 3

Fades aren’t used very often in Shanahan’s offense. Besides trying it twice against New Orleans, they haven’t used it this season. There has been ongoing discussion about Jones not being targeted in the red zone. Double teams are primarily the cause for Jones' lack of usage. Green Bay emphasized their focus on entirely stopping him. That allowed other receiving options such as Sanu to benefit from it. Mike Smith decided to play with fire and not double team Jones in the third quarter. That ended in predictable fashion.

4th quarter: 3rd and Goal at TB 2

Tampa Bay learns from the previous touchdown and provides support for Hargreaves. They use Chris Conte to take away any potential slant or in-breaking route. It doesn’t appear that Jones is their first option anyway. The offense runs a picture-perfect rub route to free Hooper for an easy touchdown. Sanu has been used to set clean picks for Justin Hardy in previous games. Not initiating contact and staying committed to the route allows Sanu to avoid being penalized. Hooper finds enough space and Ryan throws a dart to complete the play.