Which is more accurate for Matt Ryan: 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year or backslide against tougher competition? The Falcons QB is certainly one of the faces of the franchise, and a darn good one, but many expected that Ryan would take a step back in his second year and see a “sophomore slump” after NFL defensive coordinators had a year of tape on the QB and found out his weaknesses and tendencies. While Ryan didn’t have an outright terrible year, the former Boston College signal caller did have his share of struggles, where he threw 12 of his total 14 interceptions in a 6 game span. Predictably, the Falcons went 3-3 in that span. He then injured his foot and was out for several games, going 1-2 and almost going 0-3 and losing to a winless Tampa Bay team at the time. Many assumed that the Falcons would once again fall short in their quest for back-to-back winning seasons. To his major credit, Ryan came back strong from the injury to lead his team to a 3-0 record including a trip to frigid New York against a Jets team that went all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Ryan finished with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and even garnered a QB rating over 80 percent which was unimaginable early on in the year.
It’s a certainty that Matt Ryan deserves the lion’s share of the blame for his sub-par sophomore season with his poor decision making and errant throws. But do some of the other players, coaches, and positions deserve) some of the fault? Even though comparatively the Falcons QB wasn’t sacked much at all (19 compared to Ben Roethlisberger’s 50), Ryan had the most throwaways of any QB in the NFL with 30 and the next most was Jason Campbell with 22. Some of these were his fault in not trying to prolong the play, but other factors may have played a part as well.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, the offensive line had a pretty poor year in terms of individual pass blocking, but they ranked 9th overall in terms of the entire NFL. They had an ranked 6th in the NFL by FootballOutsider.com. Although a popular one, that may not be the best excuse to use. The fact that the running game, the supposed bread and butter of the offense, was pretty anemic probably did play a part. Some of the blame may rest with Mike Mularkey and his weak play-calling. How many play-action, one-option rollouts did the Birds run last year? The play-calls were predictable and stale and defenses adjusted appropriately. Besides Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, the receivers were pretty atrocious as well. Jenkins? Booker? Weems? Still, great quarterbacks have to deal with adversity and not always having the best talent around and Ryan surely failed in that regard.
Ranked 13th in the Entire NFL according to FootballOutsiders.com, which measures a QB’s effectiveness.
Snaps – 904
Overall Comprehensive Ranking – 16th (+21.5 Rating)
Pass Ranking – 17th (+20 Rating)
Penalties – Tied for 1st in least amount of penalties
Completion Percentage – 25th (58.3%)
Throwaways – 40th (the highest amount in NFL with 30)
Hit as Threw – 17th (6)
Batted Passes – Tied for 6th Least, with 4
Pass Yards – 21st (2915 yards)
Yards Per Attempt – 23rd (6.5 yards)
Pass TDs – Tied for 14th (22)
Interceptions – Tied for 27th (14)
Sacks – Tied for 27th (19 sacks)
Dropped Passes – 31st (Most to Least – 16)
QB Rating – 21st (80.9)
Great Games – San Francisco, Carolina(1st), New York Giants
Awful Games – Carolina (2nd, New Orleans (1st), Dallas
Was Matt Ryan’s Offensive Rookie of the Year due to his own excellent play or the product of low expectations, a superb run game, and very weak schedule? Many of Ryan’s detractors will quickly point to his high interception total as a college quarterback, a rookie, and in his second year. The Falcons QB can make some great throws and excellent decisions, but can just as easily follow it up with a drive and momentum killing interception (just before halftime against unbeaten Saints at home, anyone?).
While some of the issues may not be all his fault, he shares the vast, vast majority of the blame. Another knock on Ryan is his inability to deliver against tough defenses in big games. Some of his worst games and most boneheaded decisions came against New Orleans in the Superdome, the Cowboys in Dallas, and Panthers in Charlotte. Ryan will also need to put to rest the whispers that he doesn’t have the adequate arm strength to be a big time QB and stop being over-reliant on Tony Gonzalez as a safety net. Granted, he did come back from an injury to lead the Falcons to back-to-back winning seasons, but to be considered elite he must cut down on the large amount interceptions and poor decisions.
Yes Matt Ryan didn’t have a fantastic year in his sophomore campaign, but the quarterback overcame a lot of adversity to help the Falcons break the ridiculous curse of never having back-to-back winning seasons in their franchise history, something no other Falcons QB can claim. Ryan certainly had his issues, and he’ll be the first to say so, but his work ethic is unmatched and he is bound and determined to become an elite, franchise quarterback. Concerning the interceptions, Ryan’s second year is equal to or less than many of the all-time great quarterback’s 2nd year INTs (Elway – 15, Montana – 12, Manning – 15, Brady – 14, Brees – 15, Favre – 24). Also consider the following as facts rather than excuses: the running game was anemic in a run first offense, Coach Mularkey was pitiful in his play-calling, no wide receivers stepped up besides White and Gonzalez, and the offensive line had its own issues, especially at left tackle. Much of the blame lays at Mike Mularkey’s feet with his predictable, vanilla, and weak play-calling. Mularkey would often run on first and second down and then predictably pass on third and long.
Many players could have easily finished out the season on the bench after an injury with the playoffs gone, but Ryan felt obligated to come back for his team. Several times the hope looked lost in the three game stretch needed to break the curse, but Ryan found ways to help his team win at the end of the game in New York and Tampa Bay. Granted, Ryan needs to step up his game, make better decisions, and take the next step to become elite, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t do that with his unmatched work ethic and leadership.
-Will Matt Ryan take the next step in his career?
-Was last year a major cause for concern?
-Are you troubled by Ryan’s poor decision-making?
-Is #2 only successful when an RB has a great year?
-How much fault lies with Coach Mularkey’s play-calling?
-Any of these to blame: OL, RB, or WR’s for Ryan’s lower year?
-Predict the yards, TDs, and INTs that Ryan will have next season?