FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Coach Dan Quinn has been here before with a three-game losing streak.
The Atlanta Falcons dropped three straight last year. They lost six in a row in Quinn’s first season in 2015.
“None of us expected to be here with this losing record,” Quinn said Monday. “We also don’t expect to stay here.”
At 1-4, the Falcons are reeling and hardly resemble the team that recovered from a three-game skid last year to win seven of 10 and make the playoffs.
Their defense ranks worst in points allowed and worst in third-down percentage. Their offense struggles to protect quarterback Matt Ryan and to generate a running game.
Star receiver Julio Jones didn’t catch a pass until the fourth quarter of Sunday’s blowout loss at Pittsburgh. Atlanta’s special teams has been embarrassed with two blocked punts in the past three games.
“You’re in a slump and how do you get out of it?” Quinn said. “You fight your ass off to get your technique right and get organized right because you’re the one that will do it.”
The Falcons are fortunate that Ryan isn’t seriously hurt. The 2016 NFL MVP had X-rays that were negative on his foot after Pittsburgh sacked him six times and hit him 11 additional times.
But that’s about the only good news Atlanta has had with injuries. The defense has two starters, safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, out for the season, and middle linebacker Deion Jones won’t return for another five weeks.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has an ankle injury and could miss his second straight game when the Falcons host Tampa Bay this weekend.
Quinn said tight ends, running backs and receivers were as responsible as the offensive linemen for missing blocks that contributed to Ryan’s hits.
The Falcons didn’t pick up blitzes well enough or hold back the Steelers’ steady four-man rush. Blocks broke down quickly at the point of attack.
Left tackle Jake Matthews said the line too often was out of position or not sliding out quickly enough to plug the gaps.
“We go over all the looks and we have a real good game plan going in how to protect him, but a different stunt comes at you and you have to react,” Matthews said. “Just sticking to our rules and techniques will take care of it.”
The running game ranks 25th after gaining 62 yards against Pittsburgh. Devonta Freeman, returning from a knee injury that sidelined him three straight games, had a 20-yard gain in the first quarter but otherwise picked up just 12 yards on seven attempts. Tevin Coleman rushed seven times for 15 yards.
Jones ranks third in NFL yards receiving, but he had five straight incompletions before finally catching an 18-yard pass that set up a touchdown. The two-time All-Pro has zero TD catches this year and just three in the past two seasons.
“He’s always part of our thinking and design,” Quinn said. “So as coaches, what can we do to put him in spots that it’s way harder to find the double (team), way harder to get to a spot where they can put two guys on him. Every week we have to think that way.”
Easily the Falcons’ biggest concern is with a defense that’s allowed five touchdowns in each of the past three games, though Quinn does like that they came out of the game with no new injuries and will begin this week with the same personnel.
“If you just look at the stats, you’re going to be miserable,” Quinn said. “There are guys who have new voices playing next to one another. Maybe they haven’t had as much communication as you would like, some verbal, some non-verbal.”
Defensive end Takk McKinley was even more succinct.
“Man, we got our ass kicked,” McKinley said. “That’s pretty much it.”