Falcons’ offensive funk has Sarkisian searching for answers

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The dramatic decline in the Atlanta Falcons’ scoring has left the heat on first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to orchestrate a quick turnaround.

Most of the key pieces are in place from the Atlanta offense that led the NFL in scoring last season. The biggest change was at coordinator, where Sarkisian was hired from Alabama after Kyle Shanahan became San Francisco’s coach.

Production for the Falcons (3-3) has been stuck in reverse in three straight losses . The challenge for Sarkisian is to find answers in Sunday’s game at the New York Jets .

The low point for the offense came in last week’s 23-7 loss at New England .

It was time for Sarkisian and other coaches to review their own work.

“For me, especially coming out of the game, human nature is to look around and kind of see what’s wrong,” Sarkisian said.

“We really challenged all of us coaches and players to look at ourselves and find the things within ourselves individually to say hey, this is an area where I can improve upon,” he said.

The obvious areas for improvement are third down and red-zone production. The Falcons scored in only one of four possessions inside the New England 20. They converted only two of nine third downs.

“That’s generally not winning football,” Sarkisian said.

Extra practice time has been devoted to each area this week.

Players say it’s wrong to blame Sarkisian for the offense misfiring.

“When things are going bad, it’s easy to point the finger at this person, that person,” wide receiver Julio Jones said Thursday. “It’s on all of us to take it upon ourselves to fix it. I feel like Sark has been doing a good job for us calling the plays. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”

Center Alex Mack said it is “definitely too simple to point a finger at any one person.”

The Falcons’ scoring has dropped from their NFL-leading 33.8 per game in their 2016 Super Bowl season to 21.3. Atlanta has been held under 20 points in three straight losses.

The Falcons’ offensive frustrations were summed up against the Patriots in the fourth quarter at the New England 1. Sarkisian called a jet sweep on fourth down. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel lost five yards on the run.

Coach Dan Quinn was critical of the call . He said he’d “rather have a better play for that.”

Perhaps aware of mounting criticism of his top offensive coach, Quinn defended Sarkisian on Thursday.

“There are a lot of really good things that Steve does and I don’t want to lose sight of how good a football coach this guy is,” Quinn said. “When you’re going through a time when you’re not producing from a points standpoint, there’s a lot of factors involved.”

Sarkisian, 43, is in his first NFL job since 2004, when he coached the Raiders’ quarterbacks.

His self-described issues with alcoholism led Southern Cal to fire him as head coach in October 2015. He had treatment and in 2016 was hired as an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he was promoted to coordinator a few days before the Crimson Tide’s loss to Clemson in the national championship game.

Sarkisian said Thursday he knew he’d have to make adjustments when he returned to the NFL.

“I wasn’t naive to think there wouldn’t be some” adjustments, he said.

“We knew there were going to be some things along the way to adjust to. I think it’s gone very well in that way. It’s just a matter now of us taking care of some situational third down plays and making sure when we get our opportunities in the red zone, we score points.”

NOTES: RB Tevin Coleman, a surprise on Wednesday’s injury report with a knee injury, was again limited on Thursday. He hurt his knee against the Patriots. … LB Duke Riley posted on his Twitter account “Surgery came out great!” on his knee. The Falcons have not released a timetable on Riley’s recovery other than to say he won’t play this week.


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