Falcons struggles in the red zone should be attributed to one person

NFL: AUG 05 Atlanta Falcons Training Camp

The Falcons had a pair of drives that went for a combined -10 yards, ending in two Younghoe Koo field goals. That’s what Arthur Smith’s offense has been.

Explosive plays aren’t the problem. Atlanta ranks in the top half of the league in runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards, but they somehow rank 25th in scoring, which is a drastic improvement from a week ago.

The Falcons put up a season-high 28 points in Taylor Heinicke’s first start, but the red zone offense continued to falter. It’s clearly an Arthur Smith problem; no example is more evident of that than the inexcusable sequence of plays that came in the second quarter after an Arnold Ebiketie strip sack and subsequent return by Lorenzo Carter to the Vikings’ 1-yard line.

The following four plays were a microcosm of the Falcons’ red zone shortcomings. Here’s the sequence: Chris Lindstrom’s false start (-5 yards), pass to Jonnu Smith (+5 yards), jet sweep to Jonnu Smith (0 yards), run by Tyler Allgeier (-4 yards), and Koo would then convert the field goal.

That’s just what the Falcons offense has become. They’ve kicked 10 field goals to only five touchdowns in the last three games. Without Younghoe Koo’s steady leg, we could be sitting here a couple of games under .500 instead of just one. He’s made 20 field goals, which is tied for the most in the NFL.

Somehow, Arthur Smith designs and calls plays within 20 yards of the endzone for Jonnu Smith and Tyler Allgeier instead of a pair of top 10 picks in Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts. This is nothing against Smith and Allgeier, but Robinson and Pitts are considered some of the best athletes in the entire league. There needs to be a more concerted effort to get them the ball.

According to Pro Football Reference, Pitts has received just 12.1% of the offense’s targets within red zone and 16.7% of targets within 10 yards of the endzone, compared to Smith’s 18.2% of targets within the 20-yard line and 22.2% within the 10-yard line. That shouldn’t be the case.

The trend continues with Atlanta’s red zone rushing attempts. Allgeier is receiving 52.1% of the rushes within the 20-yard line, 47.6% inside the 10-yard line, and 50% of the rushes inside the 5-yard line. Robinson’s percentages are 18.8%, 9.5%, and 12.5%. Again, that’s unacceptable.

The Falcons red zone offense is such a sore spot that it made The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen’s worst coaching decisions of Week 9.

Arthur Smith’s red zone offense

The Falcons offense is 19th in red zone efficiency. They only got to the red zone twice against the Vikings but on their first trip, Smith made two questionable calls on the goal line. On second down from the 1-yard line, he called a fly sweep to tight end Jonnu Smith that was stopped for no gain. On the next play (third down), he called an outside zone play for Tyler Allgeier that was stopped for a four-yard loss. Outside zone is a great play, but you don’t see it called in short-yardage situations often because offensive linemen are stepping horizontally rather than vertically. Also, I don’t understand not using Bijan Robinson in the red zone. He’s 216 pounds and showed the ability to squeeze through tiny holes in the red zone in college. The Falcons had to settle for a field goal and ended up losing the game by three points.

Unfortunately, that sequence of plays isn’t the only example of Arthur Smith trying to out-smart opponents and not getting his playmakers the ball close to the endzone. With Taylor Heinicke under center, the offense was pushing it down the field and looked much more explosive, but the group still failed to convert valuable possessions into six points instead of three.

Desmond Ridder had a game in which he committed three red zone turnovers, following a game in which he had a back-breaking interception in the red zone. Now, there’s no inexperienced third-round pick to shift the blame to. It’s clearly an Arthur Smith issue at this point.

Photographer: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire


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