Tag Archive: Michael Jenkins


I will readily admit that I was opposed to playing Christian Ponder this week against the Packers. I tend to be more conservative when it comes to quarterback development, and if you commit to sitting a QB and letting him learn I believe that you should stick to that and not rush him into the starting role before he is ready. The Vikings don’t exactly have a beautiful track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks (the last one they developed that amounted to anything was Daunte Culpepper if I remember correctly, unless you’re one of the few Tarvaris Jackson fans left) so it’s hard for me to trust their judgement on playing Ponder this early in his rookie season. I had my reasons, and I thought they were legitimate. Why play your rookie quarterback in his first start of his career against the defending Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers, especially when they love to apply pressure off the edge with interesting blitz packages?

Shows what I know.

Ponder didn’t have an insane stat sheet at the end of the game, completing only 13/32 passes for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He had a QB rating of 59.2, and threw a couple of passes that could have been potential turnovers. The Vikings couldn’t complete the comeback against the Packers, and the Vikings limped to a 1-6 record on the season.

But somehow, that all doesn’t seem to matter.

I haven’t watched every single Vikings game this season, but it’s safe to say they looked like a different team than they did previously. They fought throughout the entire game, they didn’t look like absolute garbage in the second half (though they did struggle in the 3rd quarter as Green Bay adjusted to take away Ponder’s roll-out plays that accounted for so much of their success in the first half) and Ponder gave the Vikings a significant spark on offense. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the year, but I have to give the Vikings credit: They were in the right when they chose to start Ponder today.

Had McNabb started the offense would have had no confidence, it would have been the same vanilla play-calling, and McNabb’s seemingly disinterested attitude would have continued to permeate through the offense and the rest of the team. Instead, Ponder’s excitement and up-tempo attitude became contagious and the team seemed to be fighting harder than they did in other weeks. I was very impressed by this, and it was actually fun to watch the Vikings on offense today. That’s not something that I’ve said often when watching them in previous weeks.

Adrian Peterson had a great game against a very good rushing defense, and while you have to give credit to the Vikings offensive line and blocking schemes, it’s hard not to argue that a lot of it had to do with Ponder. McNabb struggled to stretch the field vertically and I have seen him get sacked so many times off of play-action I’m not sure he even expected to throw the ball after he turned around to scan the field anymore. Ponder was only sacked twice tonight, which says a lot about the game-plan the Vikings had (AKA, get the ball out early and let Ponder use his mobility to extend plays outside of the pocket) but it also speaks to Ponder’s ability to process information and how ready he was to play this game.

Now, this wasn’t just about Ponder. Ultimately, Ponder and the Vikings lost and that had everything to do with Aaron Rodgers. It has been said time and time again, but he is without a doubt the best quarterback in the NFL right now. The things he is doing right now are just out of this world. At one point Rodgers had thrown three incompletions in the first half. Two of them were a result of dropped passes that should have been caught, and the other was a spike. He was unbelievable in this game and it was really something amazing to watch. He hasn’t had a QB rating under 100 yet this year and he had one of his best games of the season against the Vikings. You have to feel for the Vikings because their defense was just not up to the task of slowing him down, especially in the secondary.

Overall I was obviously incredibly impressed with Rodgers, but Ponder really impressed me because the Vikings offense just looked totally different. It looked like he was unleashing some of their potential whereas McNabb was holding them back in previous starts. Again, I didn’t think Ponder should play in this game because I like to be conservative with QB development, but it is clear that he was ready to start. The Vikings absolutely made the right decision playing him in this game. It will be interesting to see how he does the rest of the year, particularly when teams make a concerted effort to take away so much of his passing outside of the pocket (especially on designed roll-outs).

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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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.

More Transaction Updates:

Chad Ochocinco to Patriots- This is another saavy pick-up by the Patriots. Getting a quality player at a discounted price and they have the locker room to keep him in line, though he will always have his fun. It’s great to see Chad getting a chance to play for a contender, instead of the inconsistent Bengals. He definitely has upside, and with Chad, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady should be a very happy camper. That offense may not look like an explosive offense (like it was with Randy Moss) but it’s an offense that can kill you in a 2 TE set or a 4 WR set, or even with 3 WR’s and 2 TE’s split out. I’m not sure you can say that about any other offense. Not to mention they have four or five running backs that could make most NFL team’s rosters. That offense is stacked.

Johnathan Joseph to Houston- This is a big pick-up for Houston. A year ago they let Dunta Robinson go and while he didn’t have a very good season in Atlanta it still left them searching for a quality corner. Now with Joseph and Kareem Jackson at corner they have a potentially impressive tandem of corners which is a huge change for a team that traditionally has a lot of issues in their secondary. Joseph is a very good corner in this league and if he can stay out of trouble (which has been a problem every once in a while, not consistently like other Bengals) he should be more than worth the money he got in my opinion.

Greg Olsen to Carolina- They gave up a quality pick for him, so Chicago got more value for him than the ‘Skins got for Haynesworth or the Bengals got for Chad Ochocinco, which is good. But the Bears traded away a quality weapon, though most people know that Mike Martz has never really heavily featured tight ends in his offense so the trade isn’t a huge surprise. I believe he was rumored to be available last year but nothing ever materialized. Carolina on the other hand picks up a quality TE who is the best TE they’ve had in a very long time, arguably since Wesley Walls.

Ray Edwards to Atlanta- This is a HUGE signing for the Falcons. I was concerned that he was going to get $8 or $9 million dollars a year, and we got him for 5 years, $30 million with $10 or $11 million guaranteed. Absolutely fantastic deal, not going to hurt us badly in the long run and he should be able to play up to that contract easily. Does a good job versus the run and also can threaten as a pass rusher with consistent 1 on 1 match-ups, and he will have that playing opposite Abraham with Babs and Peters in the middle. Hopefully Peria Jerry, Biermann and Sidbury will all step up, and if they do then we could have a very talented defensive line. This was the final piece of the puzzle for at least this year, so I am very excited to see how this talent laden DL performs.

Tyson Clabo back to the Falcons- Clabo signed for only 5 years and $25 million, a bargain for a pro-bowl caliber RT and another nice signing by the Falcons. I was skeptical of our offseason, but if we get Blalock at a reasonable price along with Clabo, Edwards and hopefully an extension for Grimes and possibly resigning Jason Snelling then this would be a terrific offseason.

Falcons release Jamaal Anderson, Michael Jenkins- We should have released Jamaal Anderson two years ago, but it’s official that he is gone now. As bad as he was for Atlanta he could be a solid player for a 3-4 defense at DE. He was most effective at DT for us when we moved him inside, but he will never be much of a pass rusher in a 4-3. Jenkins, on the other hand, was a solid #2 for us and I was hoping we’d keep him for one more year to keep some pressure off of Julio Jones. Now if Julio doesn’t step up and ball right away we don’t have anyone to put in to let him get his bearings, he just has to fight through it. Let’s hope Julio steps up, but I’m worried about asking too much of him too early.

Roy Williams agrees to go to Chicago- This would be a nice pick-up for the Bears who need a quality WR for Cutler to throw to and he has upside that he didn’t demonstrate much in Dallas. Leave it to Mike Martz to maximize that, so expect a more effective Roy Williams in Chicago.