Time for Falcons to rediscover their high-scoring identity

Clark picks Saints as best team this season (2:14)

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan didn’t hesitate when asked what the identity of the Atlanta Falcons' offense should be at this juncture.

"I want to score points," Ryan said. "Whatever we’ve got to do to score points -- run the football, throw the football -- find ways to get it done. But it’s about being a point-scoring machine, and we have not been that."

The lack of scoring obviously has been a major contributor in the Falcons' 1-3 start. They’ve averaged just 17.5 points per game, which ranks in the bottom seven in the league. Through four games, the Falcons have gotten off to slow starts offensively while being outscored 38-10 in first quarters and 71-20 in first halves.

Believe it or not, an offense featuring WR Julio Jones, WR Calvin Ridley, RB Devonta Freeman, TE Austin Hooper and WR Mohamed Sanu managed just one first-quarter touchdown through the first four games: a 1-yard run by RB Ito Smith last week versus Tennessee to cap a six-play, 85-yard drive.

So with all the weapons on offense, how many points does Ryan believe the Falcons should average per game?

"I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s more than what we have been," Ryan said. "That’s the biggest thing: We’re leaving points out there. We’re leaving drives out there with some of the stuff that we’ve done, whether it be penalties or turnovers. Those are the things that cut off points really quickly."

Jones, who leads the Falcons in scoring with 24 points on four touchdowns, offered his own take.

"That's not us," Jones said of averaging 17.5 ppg. "That's definitely not good enough to win football games. We need to at least score 21, 28 points a game, and we should be able to do that with the guys we have.

"Everybody's got to fix themselves first. And once we do that, we'll see what happens from there."

The Falcons' "frustrated" offense, as coordinator Dirk Koetter called it, needs to rediscover its identity starting with Sunday’s game at Houston, and it won’t be easy against J.J. Watt and the Texans' defense. They allow 19.5 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL.

Koetter insists his goal is to have a run-first offense, but Koetter’s past speaks toward a pass-heavy approach. Even looking at this season's first four games, the Falcons have attempted 176 passes compared to 71 rushing attempts. True, a large part of that has to do with falling behind early and having to air it out to stage a comeback. But even in first quarters, the Falcons have passed the ball 34 times compared to 24 rushing attempts.

Ryan mentioned how turnovers and penalties have plagued the offense. Well, Ryan has been intercepted three time inside the opponent’s 10-yard line this season, including twice in the end zone. All three of those interceptions were intended for tight ends, with two to Luke Stocker and one to Hooper. And Stocker isn’t really known as a pass-catching target. Ryan has seven turnovers total with six interceptions and one lost fumble, tied for the third-most in the league.

The Falcons have been whistled six times for either offensive holds or false starts in opposing territory. Two of the holds -- both on left guard James Carpenter -- knocked them out of field goal range in games against the Vikings and Colts. Another hold, against Hooper, resulted in the Falcons eventually settling for a third-quarter field goal last week against the Titans.

If Ryan can avoid the turnovers, and if the offense can avoid untimely penalties, the Falcons are capable of at least three touchdowns per game, based on their offensive talent. This is much of the same personnel that helped the Falcons to a league-best 33.8 points per game under then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in 2016.

Collectively, the Falcons don’t want to reflect on past success.

"I feel like we’re our own group now," Hooper said. "It’s tough when you have one of those all-time great years to compare it to anything else. What we did that year was special and deserves its own asterisk. But, we’re our own unit now. We just haven’t been able to execute. We can all raise our level of execution."

So what needs to change moving forward? Again, Koetter maintains that it’s on him to get the run game going with more attempts, so we’ll see if there’s more balance ahead. Screen passes can sometimes be an extension of the run game, and there haven’t been many of those thrown to Freeman or Smith.

Naturally, Jones needs to be the focal point of the passing game, regardless of the coverage. He’s been targeted four times in the red zone and has three touchdowns to show for it.

Koetter talked about getting Ridley more involved. Ridley has one or no targets in the first quarter of three of the team's four games.

Asked about making any suggestions to Koetter, Ryan said there is open dialogue.

"That’s a constant process," Ryan said. "From when he first got here through every week, I feel like I’m very consistent with that. I think he is as well. We both work hard during the week to try and put together the best plan we can, and [I] try to give my input as much as I can throughout the week."

Ryan remains confident in an immediate turnaround, no matter how desperate times might look for the Falcons. Of course, the team needs Dan Quinn’s defense to hold up its end by being sound tacklers and creating some turnovers. And the Falcons could use an impact play or two on special teams.

The Falcons’ identity, however, is defined by their offense.

"We’ve got to get back to playing consistent football," Ryan said. "And when we do that, we certainly got the talent to put up points the way that we’re capable of doing."