Falcons looking to become road warriors for rest of season

Falcons looking to become road warriors for rest of season

Talk all you want about Matt Ryan being on pace for 5,000 passing yards and not throwing an interception over the past five games. Those individual statistics mean little to the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

The number that matters to Ryan this week is 0-2: his team's road record as it prepares for Sunday's trip to face the Washington Redskins (5-2) at 1 p.m. ET (Fox).

Sure, the 3-4 Falcons have a little momentum after winning their past two games. However, they haven't been the same team away from home, and Ryan knows it.

The Falcons averaged 32.2 points per game in their first five home games, but managed just 14.5 points per game in road losses against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. At home, they've converted 14 of 16 (87.5 percent) red zone opportunities compared with 2 of 7 (28.6 percent) on the road. And Ryan, who has 14 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 130.7 at home, has one touchdown, one interception and a 77.0 passer rating on the road. Ryan has been sacked just as many times in the two road games (10) as he has in the five home games.

Ryan's all-time road record is 42-40, including 15-9 the previous three seasons.

So how can the Falcons get over their road woes, particularly from an offensive perspective?

"I think for us, being more productive on first and second down," Ryan explained. "I think in both our road games this year, we've put ourselves in too many third-and-long situations, which are difficult to overcome. So when you play on the road, it's important to stay in front of the chains and try to keep the crowd noise to a minimum.

"That's got to be something that we do better here in the second half of the season, and starting this week in Washington."

Figuring out how to win on the road will be key for the Falcons, with three of the next four away and six of the final nine in opposing stadiums. The combined home record of Atlanta's remaining road opponents -- the Redskins, Browns, Saints, Packers, Panthers and Buccaneers -- is 16-4-2. And if the Falcons hope to gain ground on New Orleans (6-1) in the NFC South, they'll have to proceed knowing all of their remaining division games are on the road.

"It's just preparation, that's all it is," tight end Austin Hooper said of playing on the road. "We've played in hostile environments before. I don't think it's necessarily a mental crux we have on ourselves when we go on the road. It just comes down to execution and training, like anything else."

Said center Alex Mack, "Thank you for bringing it up. Pittsburgh was not our best performance as a team. We did all right in Philadelphia. That was early in the season and a harsh environment. The important thing is just to go out and execute what you know and play confidently."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn discussed his formula for road success.

"No. 1, playing on the road, you better be on point defensively and on the [special] teams side of things, first," Quinn said. "Past the crowd noise, the issue that's No. 1 for offense [is] their ability to communicate and get going. Fortunately for us, that's part of Matt's and Alex's strength.

"But you've nailed it in terms of our ability this year not to be road performers. I would say the best version of us, I think it's out there for us. And although we haven't performed as well as we'd like to up until now on the road, it really doesn't change our preparation or our mindset, although the crowd noise is a big factor."

Communication on both sides of the football will be key. Quinn pointed out how the depleted defense has made significant strides with communication. The defenders will have to work in unison to contain Redskins veteran running back Adrian Peterson, who is coming off a 26-rush, 149-yard performance in last week's win against the New York Giants.

While Peterson, Alex Smith, and the Redskins will try to control the clock with a strong running game, the Falcons need to maximize every offensive opportunity. They can't afford procedural penalties or to be thrown off if they have to opt for a silent count. And it will be more of a challenge with Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, backups to begin the season, now the starting guards after season-ending injuries to Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco.

"Obviously, they've got a great fan base, so communication is critical," Ryan said of the Redskins and crowd noise at FedEx Field. "And that starts today. It's knowing your plan inside and out; knowing what we're doing in certain situations, because you're not always able to hear really well. I think everything has to be amped up just a little bit when you're on the road because of the noise level.

"The focus has been really good in practice. Hopefully, that's something we do better in the second half of the season."

Although the Falcons want to establish their sputtering run game with Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith, it wouldn't hurt to utilize Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and their downfield weapons to hit on some big plays -- provided Ryan isn't overwhelmed by the Redskins' stout defensive front. During the Falcons' Super Bowl run a few seasons ago, Ryan completed 18 of 34 passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field on the road for 662 yards with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 137.9. In the two road games this season, he has attempted eight such passes, completing two for 55 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 55.7.

"Explosive gains, those kind of things kind of quiet down a crowd when you're on the road," Ryan said. "Explosive plays lead to points, and that's the key. When you're able to score points and keep a defense off-balance, I think that run game really starts to come to life."

 

Source: ESPN | Vaughn McClure | November 1, 2018

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