Jaguars counting on defense as Falcons re-imagine offense

Recent detours put the Atlanta Falcons near a dead end in the NFC South.

They certainly can’t afford another wayward turn when they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve played, at times, good enough to win four games,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “But not enough to be on the other side of .500.”

The last-place teams in their respective divisions are not one in the same. The Falcons (2-6) are strangely within striking distance of a playoff spot if they can string together some wins.

Atlanta has dropped back-to-back games, but the biggest concern comes with the offense. The Falcons didn’t generate a touchdown against either Dallas or New England.

The Falcons have had extra time to prepare as they played the Patriots on Nov. 18.

Smith’s comment implies the Falcons might be using the extra time between games to retool aspects of the offensive play-calling. They might have become too easy to scout, putting themselves in too many undesirable third-down situations.

“We’ve got to be more efficient,” Smith said.

The numbers for quarterback Matt Ryan aren’t enough to create great confidence. He has 15 touchdown throws and 10 interceptions, while he has been sacked 20 times.

The top rusher is Cordarrelle Patterson with 303 yards, but the versatile former wide receiver is coming off an ankle injury. He didn’t play in the New England game and could still be limited this week.

Atlanta’s offense could appear tame compared to Jacksonville’s (2-8).

“That’s our focus on improvement and make sure we have the lineup correct,” Jaguars coach Urban Meyer said.

The Jaguars have scored four touchdowns the past four games. They’ve trailed by double digits when each of those touchdowns has been posted.

Jacksonville hasn’t been able to replenish multiple areas of production.

“Whenever someone goes down, someone else has to pick up that flag and go harder and we’re not getting that right now,” Meyer said.

Jacksonville tight end Dan Arnold averaged more than four catches a game since he joined the team in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn’t throw in his direction.

Still, Meyer said the most recent game was one of the best for Lawrence based on efficiency and the lack of large mistakes.

“We want to have more explosive plays,” Lawrence said.

Now the point production might become more difficult because the Jaguars have lost receiver Jamal Agnew, who owns the teams three longest plays of the season, as he was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury this week. He had been crucial on special teams, with two long returns for touchdowns.

Jacksonville needs to replace Agnew on kickoff and punt returns along with his receiver’s role. The Jaguars signed receiver Jaydon Mickens off the Tampa Bay practice squad.

Jacksonville stands a pair of three-point victories away from holding a winless record.

“We just have to put it together in all areas and we’re not (doing that) right now,” Meyer said. “There’s no simple solution.”

The Jaguars’ defense has shown encouraging signs in becoming a building block, Meyer said. Yet that unit has been dented with cornerback Shaq Griffin in the concussion protocol.