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Falcons OC: We have 'a host of areas' to 'improve upon'

Reflecting on what went wrong in 2017 didn't take an academy of analysts for Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The issue was pretty simple: The Falcons struggled in the red zone.

"At the end of the day in this league -- and in any league -- it's about scoring points," Sarkisian said, via the team's official website. "And we were really dynamic offensively (in 2017). We were third in the league in explosive plays a year ago, we were No. 1 in the NFL in third-down conversions, but at the end of the day we didn't score enough points."

Atlanta dipped from a league-high 33.8 points per game under Kyle Shanahan in 2016 to 22.1 last year under Sark, good for 15th in the NFL. The red-zone struggles were the most glaring problem for Sarkisian as the Falcons fell from ninth in RZ TD percentage to 23rd, per Football Outsiders. Atlanta's season essentially ending on a failed red-zone trip in Philadelphia, which included some questionable play-calling and a misconnection with Julio Jones, embodied the season-long struggles.

The drop in red-zone rate wasn't the only downgrade from Shanahan to Sarkisian. The Falcons lacked creativity, pre-snap movement and underutilized players' strengths. Those struggles affected the scoring sheet. The Falcons had 19 explosive scoring plays outside the red zone in 2016. Last year they had seven.

Sark acknowledged he has several areas to work on this summer.

"There's a lot there," Sarkisian said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "There's scheme. There's play-calling. There's execution. There's continuity. There are a host of areas where we have to focus on and try to improve upon."

Sarkisian said having another year with Matt Ryan will benefit the offense because there "is a huge trust factor" after working together a full season.

As we see players make leaps in their second season on the job, play-callers can explode after becoming more comfortable with the playmakers on his new team. Shanahan's tenure in Atlanta is instructive in this regard. The Falcons were 21st in scoring in Shanny's first season before leaping to the top spot in his second.

Sarkisian would love to follow that example.

"I think the biggest thing for me is just overall comfort level," Sarkisian said of beginning his second season. "When I came in a year ago, it was learning the system that was in place. It was learning the players that were in place. In Year 2, I have a year in the system. Now I can make some of the tweaks that I feel like are needed for this offense to continue to grow. I've got a really good understanding of every player -- and the things that they're really good at, the things that they maybe need to work on, and things that I would be wrong in putting them in position to do.

"I think all of those things just put me at a much different level of comfort, where you just feel good every day walking in like, 'OK, this is what we're going to work on today because I think we can get better at it.' And if we really want to run this play, X player needs to run this play, not this player because X player runs it better. And that goes a long, long way when you think about it."

Sarkisian's biggest "problem" might be that he has a cornucopia of playmakers but just one ball. It's an envious position for any play-caller. Now he must capitalize by helping get those playmakers into the end zone.

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