The Falcons were surprisingly unproductive in the red zone all year, given their talent. Some of that was due to simple mistakes, as we’ve chronicled all year, but there were deeper sings of trouble.
The Falcons hit Julio Jones for touchdowns nine times in 2016 between the regular season and postseason. In 2017, they hit him four times, and those lost 18 points certainly factored into the team’s steep scoring decline.
As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure notes, the lack of touchdowns weren’t for lack of trying. Julio’s 20 red zone targets put him firmly in the top 10 for 2017. The problem is that when Matt Ryan tried to connect with Julio in the end zone, the results were quite objectively disastrous.
Matt Ryan went 1-of-18 (6%) on passes to Julio Jones in the end zone this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. https://t.co/RwNnaR3AGu— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) January 14, 2018
Some of this is simple luck, but you don’t hit just one pass to Julio Jones in the end zone without there being more going on. The Falcons did an impossibly poor job getting Jones uncontested looks in the end zone, and while it’s never going to be easy to get a #1 receiver who is a magnet for coverage open, there are still ways to make favorable things happen when you have a chance to score by spreading your guys out, putting Julio in motion, and utilizing play action. Atlanta just wasn’t able to do any of that well, and on the last play of their season, they cut off half the field so Ryan could try to hit Julio in one-on-one coverage in a move just about every Eagles player claimed they saw coming.
The Falcons will do repair work on this offense and try to improve heading into 2018, but it will be critically important for them to work on this. Either you have to be willing let Julio be a fearsome end zone decoy while you feed the likes of Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, and maybe Eric Saubert (ever hopeful), or you need to be able to feed Julio targets that are productive enough to lead to scores. Another season like this, as I’m sure everyone from Julio to Steve Sarkisian would agree, would be simply unacceptable.