There are two things that are simultaneously true about getting into the red zone. The first is that things tighten up considerably, making score potentially tougher because defenses don’t have to worry about being beaten deep. The second is that you only have 1-20 yards to go, which means good offenses should be able to regularly work their way around even quality defenses to score if they have the right personnel and scheming.
The Falcons seem to have the personnel but haven’t had the success, which would seem to point to coaching and execution. Atlanta comes into Week 9 27th in the NFL in red zone scoring via touchdown, per TeamRankings, having converted just 53.3% of their red zone opportunities this year. For perspective, the only teams faring worse are some of the least inspiring offenses in football, including the Patriots, Bears, Broncos, Giants, and Jets. The only decent offenses in the same neighborhood are the Panthers, Colts, and Raiders, which tells you something is wildly amiss here.
Dirk Koetter knows this.
Dirk Koetter says the biggest thing he'd like to see improve for the Falcons' offense is their red-zone efficiency. He's liked the balance between run and pass and the number of explosive plays they are generating.— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) November 2, 2020
A glance at the numbers tells you he’s directionally correct about balance, but not completely. The Falcons have run 50 red zone rushing plays and 37 passing plays, and the number of explosive rushing plays is clearly a problem. Inside the 20, the team has generated 14 first downs on those 50 rushing plays and 8 touchdowns, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. The ground game has been largely unproductive, in other words, and the Falcons need to figure out a better way to spring Todd Gurley and Brian Hill when they’re not packed up against the goal line, where they have at least had some success. Remember, one of those “explosive plays” is the 10-plus yard gain that Gurley got for a touchdown when he wasn’t trying to.
The passing game hasn’t fared that much better, unfortunately. On 37 attempts, the Falcons have just 17 completions for 7 touchdowns and an interception, averaging a measly 3.0 yards per attempt through the air. Lest you think that’s purely a function of being inside the 10, they’re 10 for 20 for 80 yards for just 1 touchdown when they’re between an opponent’s 10 and 20 yard line, an average of just 4.0 yards per attempt. Koetter’s long-standing habit of bunching up the offense when he gets close to the end zone is an obvious culprit here, as defenses simply aren’t facing many surprises from the same offensive coordinator who had this team at 25th in red zone touchdowns last year, with a slightly worse scoring percentage of 51.7%.
This is a long-winded way of saying the Falcons have a long-standing red zone scoring issue under Koetter, and as nice as it is to hear him address it, there’s no indication over the past year-and-a-half that they’ve figured out how to fix it. I’d love to see more creativity, more motion, and less jumbo packages with an emphasis on the run in the red zone against a so-so Broncos defense this weekend, but I guess we’ll believe it when we see it.