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How successful will the Falcons red zone offense be in 2017?

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Can the Falcons continue to score at a healthy clip inside the 20? Yes. Will they? Also probably yes.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons were a crisp, efficient scoring machine as an offense a year ago, annihilating defense en route to their first Super Bowl berth in nearly 20 years. As they navigate their first year under Steve Sarkisian, it’s worth wondering whether that will still be the case, and how the Falcons’ scoring habits might change.

In 2016, per Team Rankings, the Falcons were eighth in the NFL in red zone conversions. Matt Ryan threw 23 of his touchdown passes in side the 20 with just one interception to his name, and 17 of those came inside the 10 yard line. Both of those marks were third in the NFL. Devonta Freeman was seventh in the NFL with nine red zone rushing touchdowns, while Tevin Coleman bullied in six of his inside the 20. In total, the Falcons scored 38 of their 58 offensive touchdowns there, and were predictably a top ten offense in that regard.

What’s going to change in 2017?

Start with the fact that breaking in a new starter at right guard is likely to impact the overall scoring potential of this unit to some extent, and the simple likelihood that injury will hit the line at some point, even if it’s only for a couple of games. There’s big ifs in there, but the team’s red zone offense will certainly be less effective if it happens.

On the positive side of the ledger, the Falcons figure to get a bit more out of the tight end position with noted TE enthusiast Sark on board. Austin Hooper is primed to take a step forward, Levine Toilolo’s size makes him theoretically useful in the red zone, and Eric Saubert is a deeply intriguing option inside the 20 due to his size and speed. It’s also worth noting that one of these years, Julio Jones is going to score double digit touchdowns, because is a murderous alien who cannot be denied the red zone forever.

How those two factors will balance one another out remains to be seen, but let’s not overthink this. The Falcons are stacked on offense from top to bottom, and while a small drop in production is both reasonable to expect and actively expected, they’ll have no problem scoring on most defenses in the league. If Saubert can contribute early and the Falcons get their new right guard up to speed right away, it would take some pretty poor planning by Steve Sarkisian for this offense to stumble.

Ultimately, the offense should still be one of the highest-scoring units in football, and they could actually stand to be a little bit more efficient with their chances inside the 20. We’ll hope they are, and that it’s enough to offset any decline between the 20s.