Falcons offense still struggling to find its mojo

BY foxsports • September 15, 2010

The Atlanta Falcons know they have all the necessary ingredients: The hotshot young quarterback, the go-to running back, a receiver who puts up big numbers and a Hall of Famer-to-be at tight end.

So far, it hasn't added up to much.

The Falcons' first-team offense produced one touchdown in 13 possessions during the preseason. It went 0-for-13 in the season opener against Pittsburgh, a 15-9 overtime loss that puts plenty of pressure on Atlanta (0-1) heading into Sunday's home opener against Arizona (1-0).

Not exactly what was expected from a team that has Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

''Looking at the film, it seems like we're executing. Then, for whatever reason, we come up a yard short or two yards short,'' Gonzalez said Wednesday. ''I think we can be a really good offense. We have the players. We just have to go out there and execute when the play is called and move the ball down the field.

''And,'' he quickly added, ''we will.''

The Falcons certainly struggled against the Steelers, missing a prime chance to pull off a road victory against a team going with third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon because of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and an injury to backup Bryon Leftwich.

Atlanta was held to 58 yards on the ground - a paltry 42 of them turned in by Turner, who averaged 2.2 yards on his 19 carries - and Ryan threw a potentially devastating interception near the end of the regulation. Then, after managing just one first down on the first possession of overtime, and getting knocked back by a holding penalty on left tackle Sam Baker, the Falcons were forced to punt it away.

Pittsburgh won it on the very next play: Rashard Mendehall's 50-yard touchdown run.

Turner spent most of the day running into a pile of players - both teammates and defenders. Operating out of a 3-4 scheme, the Steelers were able to bog down the Falcons' big men, not necessarily penetrating into the backfield but keeping things clogged up at the line.

The Cardinals, who also use the 3-4, have undoubtedly watched the film and will try a similar tact, which means the onus will be on the Falcons line to do a better job of creating running lanes, and on Turner to take advantage of them as he did two years ago when he was the NFL's second-leading rusher.

''That was mostly on us, if you want to know the truth,'' Turner said. ''Pittsburgh is a great defense. They did a great job of doing what they're supposed to do. But if we cleaned up some things and did some things right, like we had been working on all week, we would've had a better chance.''

Turner was especially anemic when running the ball on first down. He carried it 11 times in those situations and totaled just 22 yards. His longest first-down run was 6 yards. Three times, he was thrown down behind the line of scrimmage, leaving the offense stuck in a second-and-long rut.

''Obviously, running the ball is important in this league, and that's certainly an area where we need to improve,'' Ryan said. ''But we've got a lot of things we need to improve on.''

Including the play at quarterback. Ryan burst onto the scene in 2008 with a brilliant rookie season, leading the Falcons to an unexpected playoff berth. But last year, hampered by injuries to himself and those around him, his numbers dropped off and Atlanta missed out on the postseason.

Ryan is off another rough start in 2010, making his biggest miscue late in regulation - a play that should have cost the Falcons the game before they even got to overtime.

Troy Polamalu suckered the quarterback into throwing a dangerous sideline route for Roddy White. Reading the play all the way, the Pro Bowl safety came out of nowhere to make the interception before falling out of bounds. Jeff Reed missed a 40-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining, but it didn't matter.

Gonzalez has no doubt that Atlanta will be one of the league's top offensive teams before the season is done.

''I'm not going to say last week was a fluke. At the same time, we know he can play better,'' he said. ''Our confidence is not going to be swayed this week. We're going in there knowing we have a pretty good offense and can move the ball up and down the field. Hopefully, we'll get the job done.''

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