Category: NFL Game Analysis


Before I start to discuss anything it’s important to know that I’m a huge Falcons fan, but I think it’s time to talk about the hype surrounding Matt Ryan. I have been pleased with Ryan since he became a Falcon but I don’t view the Falcons with rose colored glasses and I do what I can to not “drink the Kool-Aid” before each season. I have been a pretty consistent supporter of Ryan since he became a Falcon, especially because he played a significant role in turning the franchise around, bringing consecutive winning seasons to Atlanta for the first time in franchise history and getting us back to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Vick was our starting quarterback.

Matt Ryan is a good NFL starter, but I don't think there is a lot of evidence that he is "great" or that he will ever be "elite."

But at the same time it is not unfair to acknowledge some of Ryan’s faults of which there are a few. The most obvious of these faults is his relative lack of arm strength. It’s not awful like Chad Pennington’s in my opinion, but it is not good or great by any means. I would constitute it as above average personally, because I think he struggles to stretch the field well downfield, and doesn’t have great zip on passes in the 10-15 yard range like deep curls, deep outs and other difficult NFL throws. To his credit he makes up for his lack of arm strength with good accuracy and anticipation which he routinely uses when he throws the ball before his receivers make their breaks on these more difficult throws so that the defensive back still struggles to make plays on the ball even though the ball hangs in the air a bit longer than you would ideally prefer.

One thing that I have noticed Ryan has been doing over the last couple seasons is forcing passes to particular players and at times doing so instead of finding an open player. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are usually the players he forces the ball to when he does do it. I have seen Ryan throw the ball to Gonzalez in double coverage, once or twice with three players around him, and this does not traditionally end well for Ryan because he doesn’t quite have the zip on his throws to put the ball into tight windows without the defense having time to make a play on the ball. The most frustrating part of this is that he almost seemed to be regressing as far as making his progressions in these specific instances because he would ignore Turner open in the flat at times in favor of throwing to Gonzalez or White in double coverage.

The final thing that I personally consider a flaw is that I don’t think Ryan can will us to a victory. Not many quarterbacks can, but this is something the great ones are able to do and I don’t think Ryan can do it. I’m not saying he should be able to play by himself out there and win the game, but the correlation between Ryan having a below-average/poor game and our running game struggling to consistently churn out yardage is pretty staggering. Obviously a good running game makes life easier for any quarterback, but great quarterbacks are able to shoulder the load on offense and throw their teams into contention when they don’t have a running game. Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all players who have done this consistently for the last couple of years and their teams routinely appear in the playoffs. But when the Falcons (specifically Michael Turner) struggle to gain yardage on the ground on a consistent basis and Ryan is forced to throw to convert 2ndand 3rd and longs to sustain drives it usually results in a loss for Atlanta. That, in my opinion, is not the mark of a great quarterback. And believe me, this isn’t something that I just conjured up out some doom and gloom thought process because of the Falcons unexpected 2-3 start, I have had this opinion of Ryan since I re-watched the Falcons-Steelers game from week one of last year. My post on the subject was actually published on October 5th, 2010, just over a year ago.

Julio Jones has been an incredibly pleasant surprise this year. I thought highly of him as a prospect, but I didn't expect him to contribute so much explosiveness so quickly.

Now, one thing that the Falcons made a huge deal about was our lack of big plays last season. I would argue that the Falcons’ lack of big plays as well as their poor pass defense contributed to their problems last year, but their running game and run defense was solid. The Falcons decided that getting Matt Ryan another playmaker at receiver was the best course of action and sold the farm to move up and select Julio Jones. I was skeptical of the move, but I never doubted Jones’ upside. I just worried that the Falcons were putting too much pressure on him by anointing him the starter after watching him practice by releasing Michael Jenkins, a relatively reliable #2 receiver, before Jones had ever played a game. I have been very pleased with Jones and he has been everything I could have hoped for and more this year as a rookie, but we just haven’t been able to get him the ball consistently down-field. We wanted more explosive plays and I tend to believe that our issues with pass protection really inhibit our ability to challenge defenses down-field. Additionally, our wide receivers during Ryan’s first three seasons in the NFL weren’t exactly burners that created a lot of down-field separation so it wasn’t completely unrealistic to see limited down-field plays that can change games and grab momentum for the offense.

However, I think it is very clear that Ryan plays a role in our limited deep plays as well. You can’t blame it all on Mike Mularkey’s lack of down-field play-calling, you can’t blame it on a lack of receivers who can separate down-field, and you can’t blame it exclusively on the offensive line. At some point Ryan is responsible for his production on down-field throws, so I would like to highlight how he has done on throws that produce 20+ yard plays that the Falcons were so driven to create this year. These are statistics on any throw that is thrown 21+ yards from the line of scrimmage from the past four years:

2008: 21/55, 718 yards, 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s
2009: 9/35, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2010: 10/38, 320 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT
2011: 2/14, 94 yards, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s (through five games)

Even Aaron Rodgers, who I personally think is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, isn't automatic on 21+ yard passes.

Now, it’s easy to look at these statistics and say “Wow, that’s awful. Even in his best season he was only 21/55, that’s under 50% and good completion percentages for quarterbacks are typically 60%.” While that is true, deep passes that travel 21+ yards are difficult to complete even for great quarterbacks. Here are some stats for some other quarterbacks to help demonstrate this:

Aaron Rodgers:
2010: 24/65, 976 yards, 8 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2011: 7/13, 255 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Tom Brady:
2010: 14/36, 537 yards, 6 TD’s, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/18, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Even Sam Bradford, a player I have never really liked, has been more efficient on 21+ yard passes than Ryan has this season.

Phillip Rivers:
2010: 22/57, 852 yards, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s
2011: 4/14, 159 yards, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s (thru five games)

Sam Bradford:
2010: 10/39, 345 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/15, 213 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru four games)

So as you can see, even some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL don’t complete a lot of down-field throws. They are low percentage plays a lot of the time and they are some of the most difficult throws to complete because they require better pass protection, they require a good route from the receiver as well as a more difficult down-field catch, plus they require a more difficult throw from the quarterback. But still, the best quarterbacks in the business complete more down-field passes for more yardage than Ryan does, and while some of that has to do with who they are throwing the ball to or who is blocking for them at the end of the day Ryan has to shoulder a portion of the blame for his limited down-field production. He’s not a great deep ball passer and these statistics help prove that to be true. You would like to see him take that positive rookie season in which he was able to threaten defenses down-field and progress, but instead he has regressed on his deep passes and become less and less efficient with each year of experience. That is a disturbing trend and it’s one that absolutely warrants mentioning because he is in his fourth season in the NFL and is surrounded with some legitimate weapons with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas (who has been a pleasant surprise now that he is healthy), Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Is this a team full of pro-bowlers and Hall of Famers? Perhaps not, but they are still legitimate weapons that are better than perhaps a majority of other teams in the NFL.

And yet, in spite of this improved supporting cast Ryan hasn’t been able to be as efficient on deep passes as Sam Bradford, a player I have never been a fan of and continue to be skeptical of in the NFL. But he has almost matched his previous totals in completions, yardage and has already thrown one more touchdown pass on 21+ yard throws than he did as a rookie. He is trending upwards in spite of his pathetic supporting cast of wide receivers who are regularly lambasted for dropping passes. Ryan’s supporting cast drops passes too, sure, but it would be outlandish to suggest that his supporting cast is not significantly superior to Bradford’s. Yet, in spite of this assertion, Bradford has been more efficient on deep passes and has a comparable QB rating to Ryan (Ryan has a 79.9 QB rating this year, Bradford a 70.8).

Tom Brady has been and continues to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL, but he makes his money on passes within 20 yards, not on 21+ yard bombs.

Now, this is not an attempt to say that Bradford is going to be the next great QB, far from it. I am also not trying to suggest that Ryan is a poor quarterback. I am simply trying to demonstrate that he isn’t a very good deep ball passer. The games I have watched of him (over three years of games at this point) as well as the statistics he has accumulated are pretty clear evidence of this, and it’s arguable that even with better pass protection and upgraded skill position weapons that he won’t ever be a good or great deep ball passer. That’s just not what his skill set is. This season on passes within 20 yards (excluding passes behind the line of scrimmage) Ryan has a QB rating of 91.54, a good number. Rodgers has an insane rating of over 120, as does Tom Brady. Both are having incredible seasons statistically thus far, and it shows on their bread and butter passes of under 20 yards. Ryan is good in this area too, and to force him to throw deep passes that he struggles to consistently complete seems counter-intuitive. On one hand, you obviously can’t keep throwing passes that are under 10 yards while attempting to run the ball or the defense will crowd the line of scrimmage and put a stranglehold on the offense’s ability to sustain successful drives. But that hasn’t been Ryan’s problem. He is actually most efficient statistically on throws that are 11-20 yards downfield, completing 24/43 attempts for 402 yards, 4 TD’s and 2 INT’s (a rating of 99.2). That is statistically superior to Phillip Rivers, but significantly below the outrageous QB ratings that Rodgers and Brady have (142.1 and 130.8, respectively).

So, my argument is that the Falcons need to acknowledge that Matt Ryan isn’t the next Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He doesn’t have the same skill set. He has been effective on passes that are under 20 yards and while we still need to take the occasional deep shot, passes in that 11-20 yard range will help keep defenses honest and can turn into longer gains if the pass is completed to a player like Julio Jones who can gain quality yards after the catch once he has the ball in his hands. So while everyone loves to see the 30 or 40+ yard deep ball that the receiver hauls in and scores on that just isn’t what Ryan is good at doing. Mularkey and the rest of the staff should acknowledge this and continue to work to his strengths: Passes with-in twenty yards, play-action passing, and passes on three and five step drops. He is good at making pre-snap reads and gets the ball out quickly when he identifies a blitz, and if we can sustain drives and get some yards after the catch to make bigger plays without just lobbing the ball up and praying for it to be completed I think our offense will be better off.

This isn’t me arguing against 20+ yard plays, it’s simply me questioning how we are going about getting them. Ryan’s track record is pretty solid evidence that throwing the ball 21+ yards downfield isn’t the most efficient way for him to accumulate yards, so why would we continue to force him to do it? He’s not an elite quarterback and this is something he struggles with, so let’s continue to play to his strengths as much as possible. He can’t just throw us into games when we are behind or when the running game is ineffective. Accepting that and moving forward seems like a more logical step to take rather than pretending he is going to be the next elite NFL quarterback, because after over three years of watching him I’m just not convinced that he is going to be.

As a Falcons fan this was a tough game to watch and it was a tough way to lose. Obviously all of the mistakes that were made will be ignored as Corey Peters jumped offsides on 4th and one inside of the two minute warning, giving the Buccaneers a free first down and they were able to run off the rest of the clock for the victory. That doesn’t mean the Falcons deserved to win though, because they played a pretty poor first half.

Matt Ryan had a tough day today, but he saved his best for last in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, dropped passes and poor pass protection prevented a comeback.

I personally think that the Bucs are a similar team to the Falcons last year. They have won some very close games already this year (week two with a comeback against the woeful Vikings, now week three against their division rival Atlanta) and while they definitely have things to work on, they have still impressed me. Their defensive line could be one of the best in the NFL soon if Bowers pans out (despite my worries about Clayborn, he has erased my concerns thanks to how he has played so far. I was worried he was throttling his motor down last year at Iowa, but there hasn’t been a lot of that so far this year. Especially when he blew by Sam Baker and forced a huge turnover by sacking Matt Ryan in this game). McCoy has been good, Brian Price showed some ability with a couple big plays (a tackle for loss in the run game and a sack of Matt Ryan to force a 2nd and goal from the 15), Bowers is the only question mark for me. They are going to be impossible to run the ball against soon, especially with Mason Foster stepping in as the Mike linebacker and making all the calls as a rookie against an offense with a lot of talent like the Falcons. Ronde Barber will retire one day, perhaps before he’s 50, but Aqib Talib and E.J. Biggers looked pretty good today. Not great, but they were pretty good. Biggers may have given up yardage to Roddy White, but a lot of corners do. He got his hands on a pass over the middle to force an incompletion and nearly had two interceptions in the red zone late in the game, he just caught them and landed out of bounds. The safety position is a question mark, but they seem to like Cody Grimm there and Corey Lynch made a couple plays after he went down with a knee injury. This defense is going to be a very good one, especially in their front seven. If Biggers continues to step up and they don’t need a cornerback to replace Barber that badly, then this defense could take off very quickly in the next two years as long as their front four continues to produce pressure.

On offense, they have a lot of the problems the Falcons have had before: A lack of big plays. Josh Freeman is a good quarterback, he has a very strong arm, he’s very athletic for his size, he’s tough to bring down and he can put the ball wherever he wants to. He is going to make the Bucs very competitive for the next 10 years, and with that defense they are going to be in the playoffs more often than not as they continue to fill holes and build continuity from year to year. Plus, they have one of my favorite players in the past couple drafts in Mike Williams, a WR from Syracuse. I had him graded as a top 20 player, a first round draft pick, but noted that he had serious character concerns. He’s had his head on straight since he got to Tampa, and I said that whoever drafted him would get a huge steal if they could keep him on the right track. Well, it’s safe to say he has been on and still is on the right track as he had 11 touchdowns as a rookie last year. That didn’t surprise me in the least, but it did surprise me that he lasted until the 4th round. However, he gives the Bucs a receiving threat comparable to Roddy White. They also have a couple pretty good TE’s in Kellen Winslow and Luke Stocker (though honestly I prefer Stocker to Winslow, a better blocker and has reliable hands) and a power back that I love to watch run in LeGarrette Blount. His leg drive is fantastic, and despite his relatively upright running style he is extremely tough to bring down, and just runs through arm tackles like it’s nothing.

Josh Freeman and the Bucs offense struggled in the red zone today, and Freeman missed some throws and finished with two interceptions, but he's still a quality quarterback with a bright future in Tampa Bay.

So, after describing all of that, don’t they sound a bit like the Falcons from last year, just with a much better defensive line? I think they do. Their defense likes to bend but not break, and their offense can put together long drives, eat up a lot of clock, and score points late in games when their backs are against the wall. But often times during the first three quarters their long drives that eat up a lot of clock will stall in the red zone and result in field goals. The Bucs are just one year behind the Falcons in development, so that problem will be fixed in time I believe, but for now it will be something the Bucs struggle with the rest of the year. Today against the Falcons they had three possessions I was pretty convinced were going to be touchdowns, but the Falcons defense stepped up and stopped them and they were forced to settle for field goals which kept the Falcons in the game despite a very inept offensive performance.

Now, on to the Falcons. I think the responsibility for this game going the way it did is on the offense. They struggled mightily in the first half and really the only glimpse we had of what our offense could be was on a two play drive that involved a huge deep ball to Julio Jones (that had a ton of air under it from Ryan, but it was still completed) and then a perfect pass from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. They drove the ball down and got a field goal on the next drive, but again they stalled in the red zone. First, Roddy White had two huge drops on that drive, one on a deep ball down the sideline that hit him right in the hands against pretty good coverage from Biggers (meaning that he forced him closer to the sideline, making it a tighter window to throw into) but Ryan still dropped it in there and Roddy let it bounce off his hands incomplete. Then, Ryan stepped up into the pocket against a pretty good pass rush and as the pocket was collapsing found Roddy wide open inside the 10 on 1st and 10 from the 15 or 20 yard line. He threw it to him and Roddy let it hit right off his hands as he turned his head to run upfield and the ball dropped to the turf. Had he caught it there is no reason we wouldn’t have been inside the five, and he may have even been able to fight his way into the end zone. Regardless, it was a monumental drop on a pass he should catch 100/100 times. Then Gonzalez dropped a pass over the middle, but we were bailed out by a penalty on Gerald McCoy hitting Ryan in the head after the ball was thrown. Ticky tacky penalty if you ask me (especially when they didn’t throw a flag on William Moore for hitting Freeman above the head on his scramble on Tampa Bay’s final drive to end the game) but it gave the Falcons possession of the ball on the five yard line. Instead of running the ball like we normally might, we went to the air and Brian Price beat Blalock (despite a holding penalty called on Blalock) to sack Ryan at the 15 yard line. Now, isntead of 2nd and goal on the 3 or 4 yard line (assuming Michael Turner had managed to run straight into a pile of defenders for a yard or two like he had all game) we were in an obvious passing situation on the 15 yard line. That comes back to play-calling, and even though we hadn’t been running effectively at all we still have to at least pretend that we can run the ball in that situation. Run a toss with Jacquizz Rodgers, run off tackle with Turner, but don’t handcuff yourself as a play-caller in that situation by forcing yourself to become one dimensional, especially with the game being 16-10 where we only needed a touchdown to tie and take the lead with a successful PAT.

Roddy White is one of our best players, but he dropped two critical passes on our final scoring drive that a pro-bowl WR just can't drop.

Regardless, Ryan threw a relatively nice ball on 2nd and goal to Roddy but Biggers made a nice pass deflection to prevent him from having a chance to catch it. At first I thought it went off Roddy’s hands, but it was tipped just before it got to them for a nice pass break up. We failed to score on 3rd and goal and wisely kicked the field goal and gave our defense a chance to come up big again, though we had already asked too much of them already. With 4 minutes left and three timeouts we definitely had a chance to come up with a stop, but we just couldn’t do it.

While I would love to sit here and say that this game is evidence that Matt Ryan can throw us into games and give us a chance, I just can’t say that. If the defense hadn’t held up despite short drives by the offense and being on the field a lot against a pretty good Bucs offense that can really work the clock thanks to Blount’s power running game, then Ryan would have been throwing from a deficit of perhaps 20 or 27 points instead of 13, which would have changed the game completely. It was great to see us strike so quickly to give ourselves a chance to win, and Ryan looked great on the ensuing drive after a 3 and out, but dropped passes and problems in pass protection doomed us again. Sam Baker needs to be upgraded as soon as possible, because he has been an absolutely failed experiment at this point. Blalock played well overall, McClure had a bad snap but overall was solid as usual (better than Hawley I’ll say), and Clabo is arguably our best offensive lineman along with Blalock. Garrett Reynolds is struggling at RG in my opinion. I think he’s too big to play inside given his skill set. He is better in the running game, but in the passing game he lets shorter defensive tackles get under his pads and that means he is very susceptible to the bull rush, which has been a problem the first three weeks. At times, Ryan has stepped up to avoid an outside rush given up by Baker only to be faced with a bull rush from the C or RG position.

I thought Ryan played great in the fourth quarter, and if Roddy had caught that pass and we had scored either on that play or on an ensuing play this might be a totally different post. He threw for 330 yards on 26/47 passing, had one TD and one INT (nearly threw one or two more to Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers though) and lost two fumbles, resulting in a total of three turnovers. Not his best game by any means, but it’s hard to pin each turnover on him. There were too many dropped passes today though, and again we have proven that when Ryan is asked to throw 30 or 40+ times that we are not going to win. Our team is built to run the ball and stop the run. We aren’t a wide open passing team and we don’t defend the pass well either, but when we are forced to throw like this it’s nice to know that Ryan can run the no huddle about as well as any QB’s in the league. However, he needs to play better than he did through the first three quarters. But if Roddy had caught that pass and managed to score would we be saying Ryan had a bad game? I might say he struggled but found a way to win, but I don’t think we’d be saying he had a bad game. So some of that blame has to be on Roddy and the other guys who dropped passes today.

Unfortunately for Falcons fans, this picture of clear holding on the part of Sam Baker has become far too common. If he's not holding, it usually means he has been beaten without being able to hold.

My real problem is with the offensive line though. Their pass protection has been very problematic through the first three weeks of the season and it’s not going to get any better. This has been a problem since Ryan was drafted in 2008 and it still hasn’t gotten much better. We have two offensive linemen who should not be eligible for replacement, Blalock and Clabo (and even Blalock give up critical pressure to Brian Price on that 1st and goal pass play). Baker needs to be replaced ASAP, McClure needs to be replaced soon simply because of age, and we need to get Mike Johnson in at RG and see what he can do, because Reynolds is not getting the job done as of now. The worst thing is, because of the Julio trade we won’t be able to draft a quality LT to compete with Baker and perhaps take his job as a rookie. We will be stuck with Baker not only the rest of this year, but the rest of 2012 as well. That is more problematic than anything else for our roster, at least in my opinion.

We are still a few players away from being a contender. If Hawley and Johnson can step up at C and RG (no guarantees there at all though), then that leaves LT as the only huge hole on the offensive line. TE is going to be a big need once Gonzalez retires, and we really need to get one that can block but also catch passes effectively in traffic because Gonzalez has done that very well for us since coming here, and it’s something Ryan has grown accustomed to. Turner is going to wear down in the next year or two in my opinion, so RB could be a need sooner than people think. I like Snelling, but I’m not sure he’s a feature back kind of player.

John Abraham has been such a constant force at RE for the Falcons over the years that I think a lot of Falcons fans take him for granted. But we don't have his replacement on our roster, so replacing him will be difficult in the wake of the Julio Jones trade.

On defense RE is going to be an insanely huge need unless Sidbury steps up in a very big and unexpected way, and even if he does I’m not sure that he will create even half of the pressure Abe is able to create when he isn’t held consistently. LT and RE are two of the most critical positions in football, and the Falcons have a huge hole at one and are about to have a huge hole at the other once Abe either retires or isn’t brought back once his contract runs out. That should terrify Falcons fans, because we don’t have a replacement for either one and we don’t have the draft picks in 2012 to pick one up either thanks to the huge trade for Julio. That might seem like a devastating blow right now, but it will be over in a year and we saw exactly why Thomas Dimitroff moved up for him today. He was getting yards after the catch (YAC) every time we threw the ball to him, and he produced the critical deep ball that resulted in our only offensive touchdown of the game. Still, our pass protection and our pass defense are such areas of concern that it is frustrating that we won’t be able to address them like I would want to in the next draft. LT and RE aren’t positions you can sign in free agency, they will cost you a boatload and more times than not they don’t even hit the free agent market because of how hard it is to find good or great players at both positions. That puts us in a tough spot, especially since Baker likely won’t ever be much better than he is right now and because Abe is getting older and isn’t under contract much longer either.

So while this was a tough loss for the Falcons today, it also highlights problems that won’t be easily resolved in the near or short term future thanks to our lack of draft picks and eventually losing one of our best play-makers over the past five or six years in John Abraham.

Michael Turner has been a focal point of Atlanta's recent resurgence, but he is wearing down slowly but surely and when he is ineffective the Falcons struggle mightily on the offensive side of the ball.

The good news is, Julio Jones is playing better than I could have imagined him playing, and hopefully he will be able to open the offense up more and keep defenses from taking Roddy away. They combined for 255 yards receiving on 15 receptions today against a pretty good Buccaneers defense, and it could have been even more if Roddy hadn’t dropped two or three passes in this game. He was targeted 17 times and only had 9 receptions. I’d say two or three of those incompletions were a result of Roddy dropping it, and nothing else.

But when Michael Turner and our running game is slowed down (Turner had 11 carries for 20 yards, as a team we had 15 carries for 30 yards. Our long run of the day? Matt Ryan scrambling for 12 yards) it makes it hard for us to win. That’s why we need to make sure we have a replacement lined up for Turner. If he wears down or gets hurt and is no longer effective it will spell disaster for our team, we just aren’t built to throw the ball 35+ times a week.

Sorry for the long rant, but I think all of this had to be said. The Falcons have a lot of talent, but pass protection and pass defense are still significant issues. And when Ryan has to throw the ball for us to win games, we still can’t win games. That’s tough to acknowledge, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the truth.

Hopefully you enjoyed the read, but if you’re a Falcons fan it was probably a little depressing. If so, hopefully you at least thought it was well stated.

–Tom

Here is my write-up on the Falcons-Bears game from Sunday, September 11th. For those of you who read my blog consistently you may know that I am a Falcons fan. I feel that I was relatively objective when writing this post, but knowing a team as well as I know the Falcons is sure to create some bias. Hopefully you enjoy the post in spite of this, as I took pages of notes on this game as I watched it live. Enjoy!

Falcons Offense:

The Falcons offense was ineffective at best today. Matt Ryan passed for 319 yards but had to do it with 31 completions on 47 attempts, which is never a good sign for an offense that prides itself on ball control and effectively running the ball. The Falcons only ran the ball 14 times today and while it was for 110 yards they got 53 of them on a huge run by Turner up the middle where he was largely untouched before he was caught from behind. Ryan averaged 6.8 YPA, which is not bad but not great either, and threw an interception on a forced pass to Tony Gonzalez that Brian Urlacher made a terrific play on to bring in the pass. There were a number of dropped balls in this game additionally. Roddy dropped at least two, I believe Harry Douglas had at least one, perhaps two drops, and Turner and Snelling each had a drop if I remember correctly.

The Falcons offensive line was also clearly overwhelmed by the Bears pass rush and it showed as they tallied 5 sacks, 14 QB hits, 9 hurries and forced two turnovers courtesy of Ryan (one INT and one fumble recovery). Early in the game Ryan was willingly taking shots to deliver catchable passes, but he was getting pressured and hit so consistently that he gradually became more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and started fading away from his throws which led to less precise ball placement, more air under his passes and therefore became less effective passing the ball.

When he had time the Bears were usually only rushing four (though they regularly applied significant pressure with four down linemen rushing) which meant Ryan was looking to pass against seven defenders dropping into coverage. That led to a lot of check downs which was frustrating to watch considering how much emphasis the Falcons front office and coaching staff placed on creating more explosive plays downfield. Julio Jones flashed the ability to help in this department by showing the ability to get vertical and make catches in traffic as well as taking shorter passes and getting yards after the catch which is something the Falcons have been sorely lacking.

However, despite spreading the ball around fairly well, Ryan still checked down a lot to his running backs and at times forced the ball to Tony Gonzalez which is something he really needs to stop doing. At times he will key on one receiver (frequently Gonzalez) and throw the ball to him despite the coverage keying on his eyes, which is how Urlacher was able to make that interception on a pass intended for Gonzalez. But I also recognize that he was checking down because of the lack of separation the Falcons’ wide receivers were creating downfield, which is equally as frustrating. The Bears were playing quality coverage on all of our receivers, our offensive line couldn’t slow down their pass rush, and Ryan was forced to dink and dunk all day. That meant we needed to string a lot of plays together with no mistakes to get a potential scoring drive, but we had so many penalties (9 penalties for 65 yards) on the offensive side of the ball such as false starts and holds that a number of promising drives were killed as a result of them. It seemed every time the Falcons fought their way into Bears territory they had an unnecessary penalty such as a false start, hold or penalty after the play ended that either led to a field goal attempt or to a punt looking to pin the Bears back in their own territory.

The Falcons have a lot to clean up before next week on the offensive side of the ball. Most notably they have to find a way to keep Ryan upright because if they can’t give him time and room to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside pass rush (which was a problem today with Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds making their first career starts at Center and Right Guard respectively) it is going to be a very long season and there won’t be time to stretch the field as those routes take longer to develop. As a result of their defense’s poor play and their inability to score a single offensive touchdown against the Bears the Falcons’ run game was abandoned which is never a good sign for Atlanta, and re-establishing that despite Michael Turner’s clear lack of explosiveness and burst is going to be critical.

Overall I thought the offense struggled mightily today, only managing six total points. We didn’t see more explosive plays thanks to limited pass protection for Ryan and limited separation downfield from the receivers, and the offense overall was inconsistent at best. When they did finally seem to have something going a penalty or sack would derail the promising drive, leading either to a punt or a field goal.

Falcons Defense:

The Falcons defense was very underwhelming to me. I was hoping to see a much improved pass rush and hopefully some better pass coverage, but I was not impressed with either. John Abraham provided the majority of our pressure as usual, but I did not hear Ray Edwards’ name called once. I was hoping that he, along with Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, would create more consistent pressure. I think the pass rush was better than last year for the most part, however the Bears offensive line is a group we should have handled pretty easily, and far too often I thought deep completions downfield were a result of Cutler having plenty of time to survey the field and plenty of space to step up and deliver a catchable ball. So, while Abe impressed me (and drew a number of uncalled holding penalties as usual) I was underwhelmed by our defensive tackles and outside of some pressure from Biermann, Edwards and even some flashes from Sidbury I was not impressed by the defensive line from a pass rushing standpoint.

The secondary was our biggest problem area in my opinion, and that really hasn’t changed much since last year. I think it should be pretty clear to everyone that Dunta Robinson got vastly overpaid and really is not a #1 corner type of player. At times I wonder why he is even a starter. I thought he might just be best in a man coverage type scheme, but routinely he struggles whether in zone, man, press or off coverage. He opens his hips the wrong way, he doesn’t recover well once he’s made a mistake, he doesn’t close on the ball well, he lets running backs break contain when his only job is to force them inside to the pursuing defenders, and he misses tackles in the open field far too often. What exactly is the upside to playing him? I have to ask, because I don’t know. He’s better than the other corners we would start, which explains why Cutler was picking us apart (especially in the first half), but I think he is definitely upgradable and I don’t think he should be on our team in another two years. Thankfully, Brent Grimes makes up for some of his inadequacy with great plays on the ball, great instincts, better tackling, and amazing athleticism to recover, close and make plays on passes. He was one of the bright spots for the Falcons yesterday.

One problem I saw yesterday was not that the defense wasn’t getting any opportunities for turnovers, but rather that they weren’t capitalizing on them. I counted three dropped interceptions yesterday (Two by Thomas DeCoud and one by Sean Weatherspoon) and if DeCoud had brought in both interceptions it would have prevented a field goal and Matt Forte’s touchdown on a screen pass, which occurred just two plays after DeCoud dropped an interception if my memory serves. That is a serious problem, because if the pass rush rattles Cutler enough to make a mistake (which they did at times, even if it wasn’t as consistent as Chicago’s pressure) then the pass coverage needs to take advantage of it. Because they didn’t, 10 points went up on the board that could have been avoided, and instead of being down 30-12 late in the game it could have theoretically been a 20-12 game with only one possession necessary to tie the game. That is a huge difference, and it was one of the main reasons why the Falcons were unable to keep this game close.

One positive on the defensive side of the ball was the Falcons run defense. I thought it looked quite good for the majority of the game. I still think that the Falcons have issues tackling, as evidenced by Sean Weatherspoon when he attempted to shove Matt Forte when he was running down the sideline for an eventual touchdown instead of even attempting to wrap him up, but they were swarming to the ball, gang tackling at times, and they played fundamentally sound run defense for the majority of the game. That was great to see, because at least the front seven was doing its job and taking Matt Forte out of the game from a running perspective. Forte had a solid game running the ball accounting for 68 yards on 16 carries (4.3 yard average) with 27 yards coming on a single carry. Excluding that for curiosities sake, the Falcons only allowed him to run for 41 yards on his other 15 carries (an average of only 2.73 per carry) which is definitely good. The Falcons only gave up 88 yards on the ground (a 3.3 yard per carry average) and allowed no touchdowns on the ground which was good to see. However, Matt Forte shredded the defense catching passes out of the backfield with 5 catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. So while they slowed him down as a runner he showed his value as a pass catcher.

Long story short, the Falcons have a lot to work on. Their pass coverage was largely atrocious and there were plenty of big holes for receivers to take advantage of in zone coverage, and rarely were many Falcons in position in man coverage. The Falcons like to run zone, and that really proved to be problematic for Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens from what I was able to see. The pass coverage is going to have to come a long way, and an improvement in the pass rush will help that. But the pass rush isn’t going to be collapsing the pocket on every play, and I think it was better than it was last year even if it was less consistent than I would have liked in the first half. The secondary needs to hold up their end of the bargain, especially when it comes to capitalizing on turnovers. That didn’t happen, and it resulted in a pretty pathetic defensive display and an eventual loss.

Chicago Bears Offense:

The Bears offense looked like a juggernaut in the first half as Jay Cutler was carving up the Falcons secondary for significant chunks of yardage, he regularly had plenty of time to throw and this was all happening without much of a running game from Matt Forte and the offensive line. I thought Roy Williams looked great as he was making tough catches away from his body and providing Jay Cutler with a nice, big target that only needed the ball in his general area for the pass to be completed. A lot of people were skeptical about Williams and whether or not his addition would be significant, but I think he had a good game even if his stat line (4 catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns) wasn’t earth shattering. He did his job and each of the four times the ball was thrown to him he caught it. That’s all you can ask of a wide receiver.

I thought the Bears used Devin Hester more effectively yesterday. I don’t think you need to throw to him 5-10 times a game (they targeted him 5 times) but using him on bubble screens, a reverse and maybe a fade and post route would be how I would deploy him. He’s just so dangerous that if he can make a guy miss and get into the open field you never know what will happen, which is exactly what he did on a screen against the Falcons. He made a guy miss, got into the open field and just kept working back across the field, using his blockers and avoiding tacklers until he was pushed out at the one (though I personally thought he scored) which led to an easy 1 yard touchdown pass on play action from Cutler to Matt Spaeth in the back of the end zone. 53 of his 60 yards came on that one screen play, but that is what Hester brings to the table. He might get tackled four times for a total gain of seven yards, but he only needs one touch to change the landscape of the game.

Matt Forte continued to impress me which is nothing new. I’ve loved watching him play since he was at Tulane and I thought he was going to be a great back. I actually wanted the Falcons to draft him in the 2nd round instead of signing a free agent running back (like Michael Turner). That’s not to say that Michael Turner hasn’t been an effective back for the Falcons, but I thought Forte’s game would have been a great compliment to a quarterback like Ryan who is very smart and usually knows when to check down to his running back. I also thought his value was significant because even on a day when he was bottled up as a runner (save one 27 yard run) he was able to dramatically change the game as a pass catcher. Add it all up and he had 158 total yards rushing and receiving plus a touchdown, which is production you would take any day of the week from your running back. I really love watching him play and I think he is really the guy that makes this offense go.

Jay Cutler may have gotten a lot of grief for how he handled his injury in the conference championship game, but regardless of that he is still a quality NFL quarterback. Maybe he is lacking in toughness, and I am still personally bewildered by his footwork at times, but the guys arm is special. He has great arm strength, zip and there are times when he throws an off balance pass down the seam in perfect stride with his receiver and you just can’t help but marvel at how he made that throw. I personally think he could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league without much debate if he improved his footwork and his mechanics from that standpoint, but even still he is very effective especially when he gets in a rhythm which the Falcons allowed him to do in the first half. He was very efficient as he completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception that was returned for Atlanta’s only touchdown of the game. It was a bit of a fluke interception, but I still think it was on Cutler for throwing it instead of taking a sack, etc. I have always been a supporter of Cutler because he was the guy I thought would turn out the best of the trio of QB’s in his draft class. It’s hard to say he didn’t end up the best of the trio he was compared with considering the problems Vince Young and Matt Leinart have had in the NFL, but he could still be much better. But he didn’t have a very consistent rushing attack to take pressure off of him in this game and he was still efficient and effective which warrants mentioning in my opinion.

The Bears offensive line was better than I expected it to be, but considering the seemingly random assortment of parts that make up their offensive line that still isn’t saying a lot. It’s a definite testament to Mike Tice’s ability to coach up offensive linemen that the group played so well as a unit, only surrendering four sacks and 6 additional QB hits according to the stat sheet I’m looking at. In contrast, the Falcons offensive line allowed 5 sacks and 14 QB hits, plus 9 hurries and it is widely considered the better unit. They didn’t provide a lot of running room for Forte and Bell to run through, but I think that is something that might improve as the season progresses if the offensive line can stay healthy and mesh together as a unit. It will never be a good or a great unit in my opinion, but I think it can be solid.

Chicago Bears Defense:

The Bears defense continues to be the staple of their team. For years the defense has been responsible for dismantling powerful offenses to keep their lackluster offense in the game as long and often as possible. Now, with a potentially more dangerous passing attack and a running back who can threaten defenses just as well with the run as he can with the pass, the defense doesn’t have to win games by themselves. Their pass rush yesterday was as terrifying as ever, and Rod Marinelli continues to prove just how good of a defensive line guru he really is. The Bears cut Tommie Harris and brought in Amobi Okoye to replace him as he had not been effective for the Texans and no longer fit their scheme, and he provided some pressure along with Henry Melton at defensive tackle to collapse the pocket, and even ended up with a sack. Melton had an astronomical 5 tackles, 2 sacks and an almost unbelievable SEVEN hits on the quarterback. While they obviously played well from a statistical standpoint, I think part of the reason they were creating so much pressure was because Peppers was causing so many problems off the edge for Sam Baker and the Falcons offensive line. He forced Ryan to step up a number of times and a few times there just wasn’t any room to step up because the defensive tackles got such good penetration. The Bears defensive line was fantastic in this game, and that is a testament to their front office, their scheme, their personnel and definitely to Rod Marinelli.

The Bears run defense was more problematic than their pass defense was, but their team is built to stop the pass (especially deep passes) more than it is built to stop the run in my opinion. This was demonstrated by giving up 110 yards on only 14 carries to the Falcons. 53 of those yards came on one huge run by Michael Turner, but even still they gave up 57 yards on only 13 carries (an average of 4.38 per carry). So, their run defense could use some improvement, but they weren’t terrible in my opinion.

The real strength of the Bears defense was their pass defense. Their defensive line was nasty, but their secondary was also quite good. I think they look better than they actually are when you consider the personnel they are employing (I’m not a huge fan of Tim Jennings or Major Wright), but with that pass rush and some corners who can play man to man coverage (especially if they do it as well as Charles Tillman does) or zone coverage then they can be very effective. They caused a lot of problems for Matt Ryan because the pass rush applied pressure so quickly that the secondary was still covering the Falcons receivers effectively, meaning he had to either check down, take a sack or force a throw against good coverage. Being a pretty smart player, Ryan regularly elected to check down or take a sack. The Bears are very good at taking away big plays, but a big test for them will be seeing how well they do when they are forced to take away big plays from a team like the Packers. They have so many weapons in their passing game (Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, to name a few) that I think it will be hard to eliminate all of the big plays like the Bears did with the Falcons. The Falcons have Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, but unlike the Packers they don’t get vertical nearly as well as the Packers’ offensive weapons do. That was one reason the Bears were able to take away so many vertical plays: there just weren’t that many legitimate deep threats beyond Roddy and Julio.

Overall I was impressed with the Bears. A lot of people thought that they were going to finish in 3rd in their division and that there was no way they would see the playoffs having to go against the defending Superbowl Champion Packers twice a year plus deal with the up-and-coming Detroit Lions team in their same division. But they showed that while their offense is still a work in progress at times they can still play defense effectively. I don’t know exactly how their season will play out, especially since I don’t know if their pass rush will always be as consistently effective as it was against the Falcons yesterday, but I do think that they have a great shot at 8-9 wins which is more than a lot of people expected them to get based on what I read.

Sorry this post was so long, I had pages and pages of notes on this game. Hopefully you enjoyed the read, and thank you for reading! I’ll have my Missouri-Arizona State post up next.

–Tom

Falcons Preseason Post:

Offensive notes:

Series 1:
-Bad throw to Julio, inaccurate pass by Ryan.
-Good play fake. Vontae Davis with good coverage on Julio. Ryan threw a better ball but it was to a tight window, well defended by Davis.
-False start on Sam Baker.
-Shotgun, Ryan stepped up, got hit and the throw was incomplete. Terrible first series.

Series 2:
-Turner with a huge run between the tackles. Good blocks by Clabo, Reynolds and Mughelli to spring him. Clabo and Reynolds created a huge lane, I could have ran through it.
-Turner is running well, also with more power than I remember. Not overly explosive, but that’s not surprising considering the workload he’s had in recent years. Blalock got to the second level well, Baker with a nice down block on the DT.
-Great play fake, forced a pass to Tony Gonzalez in double coverage though. Had Turner WIDE open in the flat with 5 yards of green around him. He needs to stop staring Gonzalez down so much, he’s almost stunting some of his development as a QB. Normally Ryan would find Turner in the flat.
-Ryan stepped up and hit Julio on a drag route and he got a lot of YAC. Just what we need from him, turning small gains into significant ones. Good pass pro also.
-Very nice run by Snelling. Great cut back, good block by Baker gave him a seam. Nice vision. Baker has shown some solid run blocking. Not drive blocking, but wall-off blocking and doing his job.
-Turner with a TD, needs to protect the ball better though.

Series 3:
-7 in the box, 8 if you include the safety 6-7 yards off the LOS. Ryan still went with the run. 1 high coverage with Roddy and Julio getting pressed in man coverage? I’d check out of that and take a shot, especially because the safety will probably shade towards Roddy’s side, leaving Julio in one on one which could be a mismatch. As is, a linebacker came in unblocked because the box was stacked and he hit Turner in the backfield, the FS cleaned it up. Ryan should see that and check to a pass.
-3 WR, 1 back, 1 TE. Good pocket for Ryan, delivers a nice ball to Julio downfield. That’s a 20+ yard pass play right there. Second 20+ yard pass play of the game. Exactly what I was hoping for from him.
-End around to Julio, boy can he move. Needs to tuck the ball away securely though.
-OL has gotten a good push. Good to see that.
-Good check down to Snelling. This is against 2nd team Dolphins D though.
-Great catch by Weems. Good to see him getting action on offense. Love his potential in the slot. High throw, but great catch away from his body.
-Smart check down instead of forcing it downfield. Mularkey tried to go with a 2 TE set and surprise with a play action pass since we run so often out of that set, but the Dolphins weren’t fooled at all.
-Jared Odrick just made a nice play to beat Baker 1 on 1 versus the run and tackle Gartrell Johnson. Very nice swim move.
-HD caught a touchdown here. He didn’t look very fast on his TD, but Ryan threw a good ball perfectly in stride on the score and HD made a nice catch in traffic. I’m not sure HD is going to beat a lot of people deep though.

Series 4:
-JPW has more zip on his throws than he did last year and definitely more than he did coming out of Alabama. Meier with a nice catch away from his body. He has great hands, I think he’s the new Finn.
-The backup LG got beat here. Looked like Andrew Jackson. He gave up pressure 1 on 1 and it rushed JPW who overthrew Peelle.
-Snelling running well. Good to have him back.
-Good read and throw by Wilson here but Nate Ness made a nice diving deflection to force a FG.

Series 5:
-Weems with another nice catch. Has to be in the slot WR mix.
-JPW has good zip on his throws. Good route and quickness to create separation on curl. Good hands by HD.
-Wilson has made some nice throws. HD making some nice catches as well. Good to see.
-Don’t really see anything special from Gartrell Johnson.
-JPW comfortable in offense, good cadence to get DE to jump early.
-Weems almost made a great grab. Perfect throw from JPW, but Benny Sapp knocked the blal out.
-INT by JPW.

Series 6:
-Nothing special in Gartrell Johnson… let’s see Quizz.
-Good move from Odrick. Beat Jackson outside, good burst and hand usage. Should have a good year.

Series 7:
-Edds sacked JPW, came completely free. He’s a good blitzer and he timed it up well, nice play.
-Weems with a catch underneath in traffic. He is killing anyone’s chances of making this team as a #5 WR the way he is running routes and catching the football.
-JPW got hit hard, threw a ball into coverage but it feel incomplete. He started well, hasn’t faced pressure effectively though.

Series 8:
-A good catch on sideline by Weems. I like what I’m seeing from him a lot. I’ve been high on him as a WR since I rewatched the Pittsburgh game from week 1 last year.
-JPW got sacked from his blindside and lost the fumble. Jimmy Wilson made a nice hit on the blitz and forced the fumble. He has been everywhere, he’s a 7th round pick from Montana and the announcers will not stop talking about him. Would be surprised if he didn’t make the team.

Series 9:
-Brandon Harvey made the catch of the day so far, amazing extension and toe tap on sideline for completion.
-Antoine Smith showed some burst and speed, good hands as well.
-Good burst, nice vision/cut and ran through an arm tackle or two. Smith and Quizz should be battling for the #3 spot, Gartrell should get cut.
-Great leg drive by Quizz as he got some TOUGH yards.
-Wilson has showed some accuracy, zip. Not sure he will ever be a starter, but can be a quality back-up in my opinion. Don’t think he handles pressure in the pocket well enough to ever be someone’s Plan A.
-Again, Wilson doesn’t handle pressure that well.

Misc Off:
-Good cut by Quizz. He has a LOT of quickness.
-Froman has missed two throws here. Threw it away on the next play though, showing some maturity.
-Solid rollout, checkdown. I really don’t like all of those play action rollout plays. Cuts off half the field.
-Bad throw here behind his man, I’m not convinced he can take the job from JPW from what I’ve seen.
-Brandon Harvey is impressing me. Not a great play/throw by Froman though. Harvey looks like PS material if he is young enough.
-Froman’s ball placement has not been impressive today.
-I don’t think Froman’s arm is better than JPW. Would be surprising to me if he beat him out.
-Nice throw down the seam, good zip, but the next throw was a pass with a ton of air under it and it fell incomplete.
-Interception by Froman. He forced it into coverage and it was not accurate. JPW has to be the heavy favorite for the #3 QB job.

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in so long. I haven’t had much time at all to watch film or write stuff up being the Vice President of my fraternity and working for my college’s football team during two-a-days. School has just started, so I’m going to make a much more concerted effort to get back to my roots and watch a lot of film. So enjoy this post, and I’ll start working on more film ASAP.

–Tom

This is my analysis of Matt Ryan’s Week 1 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played poorly in this game as evidenced by his statistics: 27/44, 252 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, a completion percentage of 61.4% and a QB rating of 67.6. But there is definitely more to his performance than just his stat line, so when I re-watched this game and took twelve single spaced pages of notes on it I paid particular attention to Matt Ryan and how he played. Here is what I found:

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Ryan had his struggles against Pittsburgh, but his performance was better than I expected it to be. [Photo via Newscom

Ryan had a poor performance in this game. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was when I watched it live, but he still had a pretty bad game considering everything that happened. The interception he threw to Polamalu was an incredible play on Polamalu’s part because of the instincts, closing speed and just overall uncanny ability to pick the pass off and get his feet inbounds, but it wasn’t an impossible play to make. Ryan had been throwing that same ball to Roddy all game long, he probably threw it at least 10 times or more over the course of the game. The Steelers’ corners started to key on it and had blanket coverage on a number of them as the game went on, but finally Polamalu tried to jump one and he came away with a great interception. That is on Mularkey for calling such a predictable game, but it is also on Ryan for staring Roddy down on that route and for throwing to him on that same deep curl over and over for the entire game. Plus Ryan doesn’t have the arm strength to throw a deep curl to the sideline like that, so his passes hang in the air a bit which gives the defender more time to close on the ball and make a play on it. Hence why Pittsburgh’s corners and defensive backs were in Roddy’s hip pocket all game regardless of how crisp he was going in and out of his break.

He had a number of bad throws in this game (I counted about seven in this game), some of which were due to bad footwork (I counted about five or so instances of this, meaning an off balance throw, throw off his back foot, etc.) and some just due to him getting flustered in the pocket and panicking. There were a few instances where he had time to throw and just missed his target, which will happen. However, we really need to stop making the deep curl and deep out such a critical route in our offense. Ryan can throw it and complete it, but if we keep doing it over and over like we did in this game teams will key on it and have some easy interceptions because of how long the ball stays in the air. He has to time the throw perfectly, throw an accurate ball and put it on the right shoulder for Roddy or anyone else to have a good chance at catching it, otherwise the defensive back will be able to knock it away if they close on it well or if they are expecting it. Mularkey really needs to work to Ryan’s strengths which involve beating blitzes, quick throws, throws over the middle and throws that require more touch and accuracy rather than pure arm strength like throws to the sideline require. We can’t scrap them from our offense entirely obviously, but there’s no reason we should be blatantly playing to one of his greatest weaknesses on such a regular basis.

Ryan threw the ball 44 times in this game. That number is much higher than I would prefer, especially when our running game was as ineffective as it was.

Ryan had a number of good throws in this game, I counted about seven good throws, five very good throws and fourteen solid throws overall. As you can tell, we threw the ball way more in this game than I think we would ordinarily want to. Our running game was just not effective for the majority of the game, but I will touch on that more when I break down how Turner, Snelling, Norwood and the offensive line did. However, Ryan and Roddy had a lot of pressure put on them to perform well and Ryan did a very good job of coming up with big 3rd down conversions in this game. He started out playing poorly on 3rd down at the beginning of the game which coincided with him looking very uncomfortable with his offensive line. He showed a number of examples of poor pocket poise at the beginning of the game as well as some bad footwork and bad decisions that occurred when he panicked in the face of pressure. That is definitely not something I expected to see out of Ryan so I made sure to see how he looked in those situations as the game progressed. As the game continued he definitely settled down and played better, made better decisions and showed a lot more poise. However, he was getting away with those deep curl throws to Roddy and Roddy made some very nice catches with defenders blanketed all over him which had to help Ryan’s confidence. So after he threw that interception to Polamalu his confidence took a huge hit and he resorted to his earlier antics a bit during the drive in overtime, but still looked better late than he did early in the game.

Ryan definitely had a mixed bag as far as good decisions and bad decisions as well as good/very good throws and bad throws. Again, we threw the ball way more than I would normally like (44 times, which is way too high for a run-first team like us) and we were completely ineffective running the ball (25 attempts, 58 yards and only 2.3 yards per carry). We couldn’t run the ball well so we got into 2nd and 3rd and long situations far too often, and Ryan had to throw us into field goal position to get us any points what-so-ever. We had no balance and eventually we just became entirely too predictable and mistakes were made like Ryan’s interception late in the 4th quarter. Because I am writing this after the fourth game of the season I have the benefit of looking for trends, and I found some that were similar to those I identified three years ago when he came out of Boston College. When he was at Boston College he regularly had to throw the ball a lot to keep the team in games and often when he did that he would turn the ball over more often than when the team had a semblance of a running game. In the two games that we have had no running game (against Pittsburgh and San Francisco we had a combined 156 rushing yards on 54 attempts for a pathetic 2.88 yards per carry average) Ryan threw the ball 44 and 43 times, respectively. In those two games he threw three interceptions versus only one touchdown, had an average of just under six yards per attempt versus over seven yards per attempt in the two games against Arizona and New Orleans, and an average QB rating of about 67 against Pitt and San Francisco versus about 112 against Arizona and New Orleans. In this case I truly believe the stats speak for themselves: When Ryan has to carry the offense by throwing the ball 35 or 40+ times in a game, we struggle and he struggles as well. The only times we will have to do that is when we get behind early in the game or when our run game sputters, which is what happened against Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The disparity in Ryan's stats when he throws the ball more than 40 times versus 35 times or less is staggering.

Now, I haven’t re-watched the past three games yet so I can’t accurately describe how Ryan played in each of them, but I can tell you right now that the dominant running game we had against Arizona and New Orleans played a significant role in Ryan being vastly more effective and efficient. He is very good off of play-action, especially when we don’t roll him out to the sideline and we just let him make his progressions naturally. However, when the running game isn’t effective and he has to do a lot of straight three and five step drops to try to throw the team into the game he is going to turn the ball over more. That is just who he is as a player. He doesn’t have the rocket arm strength or arm to put the team on his back like Peyton Manning and throw for 400 yards and pull out a win in my opinion, which I now realize means that I don’t think he will be one of the best QB’s in the NFL for his entire career. That is a bit disappointing considering the incredible hype he had after his great rookie season, but he is definitely a good enough QB to put together a crucial game-winning drive when we need it most. I know that because he has done that regularly during his first two and a quarter seasons on the Falcons. That means we can win a Superbowl with him if we surround him with enough talent along our offensive line to consistently run the ball and if we give him enough weapons to keep the defense off balance by spreading the ball around. We don’t have those pieces in place yet so it will be interesting to see how we go about acquiring those pieces to allow Ryan to flourish. Because if we surround him with that talent I absolutely believe he will.

Overall I think Ryan had a below average game, but it was not nearly as horrible as I thought it was watching it live. The Polamalu interception was so late that it made everything seem so much worse than it was. Our offensive line really made it hard on Ryan, but he made quality throws to convert for first downs on at least eleven or twelve 2nd and 3rd downs with seven or eight yards needed to pick up a first down. Many of them were on 2nd and 10 or 3rd and 10. That had a lot to do with our ineffective running game obviously, but Ryan still stepped up to the challenge and did the best he could. He definitely missed some open targets in this game because he got too locked in on Roddy, and I saw probably three or four instances when he could have made a routine or solid throw and picked up a nice gain or a significant chunk of yardage. That will happen, but Ryan is usually much better about going through his progressions than he was in this game. It was a poor effort on his part, and that was reflected in his stats, but there was plenty of silver lining to be found in this game in the form of his number of good, accurate throws, his poise in the pocket getting consistently better throughout the course of the game, and his regular conversions in long yardage situations on 2nd and 3rd downs. It will be interesting to break down the rest of the Falcons games this year to see how Ryan progresses as the season goes on during my careful film study of each game.

Look out for more in-depth Falcons analysis! Go Falcons!!

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed this piece. I will have a number of other Falcons-focused reviews coming throughout the course of the season as I get around to re-watching each of the games, taking a lot of notes on each play, and then analyzing the information I gather and summarizing it for everyone to read. I’d like to do this for more teams than just the Falcons, but I think it makes sense to start with the Falcons and perhaps try analyzing a critical game for another team every once in a while. I’m sure I will have a Vikings and Packers game analysis at one point during the season since I see them play so often and I am so familiar with their rosters.

Thanks again!

–Tom

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