DETROIT -- Another week, the same refrain -- the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, with six first-round picks, couldn’t move the ball. At least not early on, which is now beginning to be a real problem.
The difference between Sunday and the first two weeks is that this time, there was no settling down. There was no second-half comeback because any time Atlanta showed a modicum of offensive success, it followed with failure.
The Falcons averaged 2.2 yards per run, 3.1 yards per pass and 2.8 yards per play. Of the Falcons’ 12 drives Sunday, only four lasted more than four plays. Punter Bradley Pinion, with 295 yards punting, had more yards kicking than the Falcons’ 183 total offensive yards.
“We didn’t have a spark,” running back Tyler Allgeier said. “We just needed to get things going. We just needed to get a rhythm.”
Rhythm, or the lack thereof, has been a common theme in Atlanta’s offense the first three weeks. If it happens once or twice, you can write it off. Three games in a row and it could be a concern.
It’s been something quarterback Desmond Ridder has spoken about often. He did so again Sunday after what seemed to be his worst start since taking over the quarterback job last December, completing 21 of 38 passes for 201 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Falcons couldn’t move the ball. They couldn’t handle Detroit’s continuous pressure, including seven sacks, and they seemed like they were slow to adjust when the Lions took Atlanta’s typically potent run game away.
“We just weren’t able to get anything going,” Ridder said. “That’s something we struggled with earlier, especially in the, we’ll say, in the first half of games throughout the season and that’s something that, obviously, we’ve got to work on to improve.”
Bijan Robinson said he feels like the offense is trying to continue to understand each other. They are all still young, at least at the skill positions. Robinson had 60 yards from scrimmage, the lowest of his first three games, part of a day where no Falcon had more than Kyle Pitts’ 41 yards receiving or Robinson’s 33 yards rushing.
The Falcons recognize their issue, and their coach, Arthur Smith, has shown an ability to adjust throughout games.
For the first time this season, Atlanta struggled to run and the 44 rushing yards Sunday were the second-lowest of Smith’s tenure, ahead of only a 25-0 loss to the New England Patriots in 2021 where Atlanta ran for 40 yards. Atlanta took losses six times on first downs Sunday. Five other times, the Falcons gained no yards. Only four times did the Falcons gain more than five yards on a first down.
“That’s pretty much the story of the game, was too many negative plays on early downs,” Smith said. “Which led to a lot of ugly offensive football. But, as ugly as that did feel, we had our chances even late to try to do something with it and we didn’t.”
Shutting down the run had been Detroit’s plan all along. Lions corner Brian Branch said they took Atlanta out of its game plan toward the end of the first half because the Lions knew the Falcons lived off the run and “it got them out their rhythm.”
“That was the main emphasis. A big emphasis,” Branch said. “Coach was on our ass every day. Dan [Campbell], [defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn], [linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard], the defensive coaches.
“They enforced that, stopping the run was going to be key that game.”
After seeing how Detroit handled Atlanta’s offensive game plan, it might be the first main inflection point of the Falcons’ season.
And so much of it might come with figuring out a way to be more productive from the start. If Atlanta can do that, it might open up more of its offense.
“We know what this team is supposed to look like,” Ridder said. “What we’re supposed to be and through three weeks, we haven’t even skimmed the surface of what we’re supposed to be.”