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Numbers Behind the Film: Atlanta’s Passing Attack Versus Miami

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So what exactly is ailing the passing game?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With all the noise that’s coming from Steve Sarkisian’s start as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, I thought it’d be a smart idea to chart the passing plays from last Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. Before we get too sad and filled with doom and gloom, let’s remember that this still isn’t a bad offense. Per Football Outsiders, the Falcons have the most effective rushing attack in the league, the 12th best passing offense, and the 4th most effective offense overall.

The world is not ending, yet.

Looking at those numbers from Football Outsiders, the drop in the passing offense (from 1st last year) has to be the most concerning. It hasn’t really been because of the play of Matt Ryan, as he’s been excellent again this season outside of the Buffalo game. It has really been the conservative nature of the passing game.

It doesn’t make much sense to neuter an offense with a host of explosive playmakers, but this is where we are. The Miami game encapsulated all of their issues in the passing game this season.

Matt Ryan had 34 passing attempts that qualified for charting (the only one that didn’t was a spike at the end of the second quarter), and here’s how far his passes traveled through the air on those attempts.

Behind the Line of Scrimmage: 5/34

0-5 Yards: 12/34

6-10 Yards: 7/34

11-15 Yards: 3/34

16+ Yards: 7/34

Through the use of advanced metrics and calculations, I was able to come to the conclusion that 24 of Ryan’s 34 attempts traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air. The target distribution on those throws wasn’t pretty.

Austin Hooper: 6

Taylor Gabriel: 5

Julio Jones: 5

Devonta Freeman: 4

Justin Hardy: 2

Tevin Coleman: 1

Marvin Hall: 1

Austin Hooper and Taylor Gabriel are fine player, but when they receive more targets than Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman combined, the offense is going to sputter. Tevin Coleman only received one target for the entire game, which he caught for a 4 yard gain.

The Falcons threw 10 passes that went beyond 11 yards in the air, but that’s a bit misleading. 5 of those 10 throws came in the fourth quarter when the Falcons were trying to drive down the field and tie the game.

On the 7 attempts that went 16 or more yards through the air, Julio Jones had 2 targets. Taylor Gabriel (2), Austin Hooper, Marvin Hall, and Justin Hardy were the targets on the other 5 throws. On these throws, Ryan went 3/7, 80 yards, one touchdown, and the game clinching interception. If the Falcons commit a few more attempts to the deep passing game, they’re capable of making big plays through the air.

Even Ryan’s interception at the end of the game wasn’t that bad. Chalk it up to a great play by rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersly.

In totality, the biggest issue that the Falcons had on Sunday was not feeding the ball to Julio Jones when he was in the game. Jones was on the field for about 80% of the snaps against Miami, there isn’t a reason for him to be out-targeted by any Falcons receiver, especially when Mohamed Sanu is out.

Steve Sarkisian also needs to do a better job of getting Tevin Coleman involved with in the passing game. Coleman is one of the best receiving backs in the game today, one target is simply not enough for him. If the Falcons want to beat the Patriots, they’ll need to feed Coleman in the passing game.

According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots are ranked 31st against #1 receivers on the year and 28th against running backs in the passing game. This is the game to get Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman a gaudy amount of targets. It’s up to Steve Sarkisian to get the ball to his best players.

If you’d like to see all of the passing plays charted from the Miami game including personnel decisions, motions, and other goodies click here.