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Shanahan has Falcons offense humming as former team visits

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is attempting to downplay facing his former team when the Washington Redskins visit the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

He had a bumpy stay with the Redskins from 2010-13 that was filled with controversy from the start.

But in Atlanta with Matt Ryan at quarterback, there hasn’t been a hint of an uprising as the offense has powered the Falcons to a 4-0 record.

Shanahan’s unit is leading or near the top of several key offensive categories after four games.

The Falcons lead the league in red zone touchdown percentage. On 15 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, they have scored 12 touchdowns (80 percent).

The Falcons are averaging 34.3 points, which is third in the league behind the New England Patriots (39.7) and Arizona Cardinals (37).

The Falcons are second in third down conversion percentage at 54.1 (33 of 61). New England leads the league at 60 percent.

The Falcons are fifth in overall yards (403.3 per game), fifth in passing yards (289.8 per game) and 13th in rushing yards (113.4 yards per game).

Head coach Dan Quinn points to the third down conversion numbers as the key to keep the offense in gear.

“That third down is a real factor because No. 1 on the third down, it allows some of the drives to continue so the time of possession was way up for us, which is a huge thing,” Quinn said. “When you take care of the ball, you’re able to convert on third downs and you’re scoring touchdowns as opposed to kicking fields, of course you’re going to play well.”

Quinn believes that Ryan’s thorough preparation during the week aids the offense during the games.

“Those guys, Matt and the offense, they work extremely hard at that,” Quinn said. “You can see them as you get into the red zone game plan, all of the extra work that they do, getting ready. Before practice walk-through, the on-the-field stuff, the things they do all the way through the week and all of that hard work that they’ve been putting in together. I think you’re seeing that on the field.”

The biggest improvement for the offense has been the rushing attack. The Falcons averaged 93.6 yards per game last season, which ranked 24th in the league. They scored just 11 rushing touchdowns, and already have nine through four games this season.

“For us, the run game has been awesome these first four weeks of the season, and I think we’re getting better week to week, which is encouraging to see,” Ryan said. “As a quarterback, there’s nothing better than to be able to hand that ball off on first and second down and be able to get into third-and-2, third-and-3 or get first downs on first and second down running the football. It makes it easier because you end up seeing a lot more advantageous looks to throw the football.”

Ryan is completing 67.1 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdown passes and two interceptions. He has a passer rating of 101.2, which ranks ninth in the league.

Ryan also didn’t get flustered when the Houston Texans took away wide receiver Julio Jones with blanket double-coverage last week. Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson stepped forward and had the second 100-yard receiving day of his career with six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.

“Obviously people are going to adjust to Julio with what he’s done the first three weeks of the season,” Ryan said. “There were some adjustments by their safeties, playing over the top help and giving you advantageous looks to the other side, to kind of force you to throw to other guys.”

With Jones blanketed, Ryan moved the ball around to five other receivers.

“(Running back) Devonta (Freeman) catching the ball out of the backfield is another huge matchup for us,” Ryan said.

SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. The Redskins hold a 14-8-1 lead. The Falcons have won the past four meetings, including a 27-16 win at the Georgia Dome last season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan, who had one sack last week against the Eagles, vs. Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder, who gave up one sack to J.J. Watt last week: Kerrigan leads a relentless Washington pass rush. The other players feed off of Kerrigan. Defensive end Chris Baker had two sacks and outside linebackers Preston Smith and Trent Murphy also had sacks. Schraeder has been stellar in the run game.

–Redskins WR Pierre Garcon, who caught the game-winning 4-yard touchdown grab against the Eagles last week, vs. Falcons CB Robert Alford, who’s coming off a strong game: Garcon is tied for the team lead with 24 catches and is second in yards receiving with 216. He’s the Redskins’ best threat with DeSean Jackson’s status unclear because of a hamstring injury.

–Redskins RBs Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, who are both averaging more than 4.0 yards per carry, vs. Falcons MLB Paul Worrilow, who has recovered from a calf injury: The Falcons are fifth in the league against the run, giving up an average of 82.2 yards per game. The Redskins average 139.5 yards rushing per game, tops in the league.


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