Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack
December 09, 2015

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't have a cure-all for Atlanta's problems on offense.

He does know a good place to start - scoring touchdowns in the red zone and taking deep shots in the passing game.

The Falcons are struggling in both areas, major reasons why they have dropped six of seven after a 5-0 start.

Opponents have either stopped or slowed Atlanta by putting two defenders on Julio Jones, the NFL's leading receiver, and limiting his yards after the catch. They also have adjusted to running back Devonta Freeman by sealing the line of scrimmage to keep him from reaching the second level of the defense.

''That's what happens over the course of the year,'' Ryan said Wednesday. ''We just haven't been able to execute at a high enough level on the offensive side of the ball, really, during the second half of the season.''

Ryan hasn't helped the problems by throwing 11 interceptions and losing three of eight fumbles in the last eight games.

As he's done the last few weeks, Ryan continues to say he must ''do better and make better decisions,'' but this week's matchup is his biggest test yet.

Atlanta (6-6) visits Carolina (12-0), which ranks second against the run, seventh against the pass and ninth in scoring. Ryan must be extra careful. The Panthers rank first in interceptions and have recovered 10 of 19 fumbles.

''When you don't make good decisions and put balls in a space they're not supposed to be, good things aren't going to happen,'' Ryan said. ''For me, it comes down to that.''

The offense's overall statistics are respectable this year as the team ranks fifth in total yards under first-year coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

But Atlanta has averaged just over 17 points in losing its last five.

Though Ryan has lobbied to throw more deep passes, he stopped short of criticizing Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme.

''I feel really good about working with Kyle and I feel like I've learned a lot from him,'' Ryan said. ''And I feel like we're going to be better for that moving forward and hopefully in this last four-game stretch.''

Jones and veteran receiver Roddy White told reporters after last week's loss at Tampa Bay that the Falcons don't take enough deep shots in the passing game.

Head coach Dan Quinn has discussed with Shanahan ways to do more within the scheme without changing the offense's fundamental approach.

''We have a core philosophy that we absolutely, 100 percent believe in and won't back off from,'' Quinn said. ''Are there ways to tweak within that? Yeah, no doubt. Doing the things that we can do better. That's at hand.''

After starting so well, Quinn hoped Ryan and the offense had sidestepped some of the learning curve associated with a new scheme, but that clearly hasn't been the case. Quinn said Ryan and Shanahan were working together, not apart, on solutions.

''We know the scheme that we have and all the unique stuff it brings,'' Quinn said. ''We love it and we love where Matt is in terms of the throws and what we want to do in it. There are bumps and slumps that happen but as far as (blaming) one over the other, I have both unbelievable and unwavering faith in both Matt and Kyle.''

Notes: Jones was limited in practice Wednesday with a knee injury sustained at Tampa Bay. ... PK Matt Bryant (right quad) and LG Chris Chester (shoulder) missed last week's game and didn't practice Wednesday. ... WR Devin Hester (toe), TE Jacob Tamme (shoulder) and NT Paul Soliai (calf) were limited.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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