The first game with Steve Sarkisian running the offense in Atlanta lacked explosive plays and didn't mirror the Kyle Shanahan production we saw in 2016.
The Falcons scored just 23 points in Week 1, after averaging 33.8 points per game last year. The key players at each position struggled to match their high-flying production. Matt Ryan had one touchdown pass (on a busted coverage by the Chicago Bears) after having multiple TD tosses in 12 of 16 games last season. Devonta Freeman earned just 39 scrimmage yards after gaining 40-plus scrimmage yards in 15 of 16 games. Julio Jones had just five targets and did not see any passes his way in three red-zone trips.
Overreacting about a Week 1 performance against a solid Chicago defensive front is counterproductive, especially when the Falcons scored points of five of eight possessions. It's notable, however, to analyze how Sarkisian's offense varied from Shanahan's operation. Most notably, the 2017 version hasn't yet offered the bevy of presnap movement we saw last season.
Speaking on NFL Network's NFL GameDay Morning on Sunday, analyst Michael Robinson noted that moving around Julio Jones will open things up for the offense.
"They better figure out how to get Julio Jones the ball more than five times, more than five targets for 66 yards," Robinson said. "Last year he had more than five targets in 12 of 14 games he played in. This guy, when he lines up, he dictates coverage. Therefore, you can to run your offense around where he is. They didn't move him around much [last week]. He played predominately X [receiver], he didn't go in any motion, he didn't play Z, he didn't play slot. He didn't do any of the things that he did last year with Kyle Shanahan. If they want to get back to the 2016 form, they better start moving Julio Jones around."
NFL Network analyst Steve Smith Sr. added that the Falcons need to push the ball to their All-Pro receiver.
"What is interesting about all that: He caught the first pass on the third play of the game. And I think the next pass he caught was eight minutes later," Smith said. "I don't get it. I don't understand. They obviously are still working out the kinks and [Sarkisian] is trying to figure it out. But he better figure it out really quick because this is Week 2 and Week 3 is right around the corner."
Sarkisian noted this week he plans to get Jones the ball as the offense continues to find itself.
"Yeah, sure there were a few shots I thought that might have been a better call here or there," Sarkisian said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But all in all, credit to Julio, five targets, four catches for 60 yards [actually 66 yards] and some big plays for us and [he came] right back out and practiced like crazy. I think that just shows his professionalism. He knows the ball is going to come his way. I'd be foolish not to try to get him the ball."
The Falcons' offense looked like it was finding it's chemistry after playing sparingly in the preseason.
Sunday night, Sarkisian and Co. face a Green Bay Packers defense that Jones torched, going for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers' remade secondary looked better last week, but faces a different beast in Jones in Week 2.
If Jones goes off once again, Falcons fans can relax, knowing their offense is fine (while Packers fans will freak out that their secondary still is a question). If Jones struggles, expect the questions about Sarkisian to ramp up their intensity.