QB corner: Ryan is PFF’s second-rated quarterback in the NFL
Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense is starting click in several key areas as he gets ready to face Tampa Bay (4-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
He led all quarterback last week with a 90.4 game profootballfocus.com grade. It was the fourth straight week that Ryan finished in the top eight quarterbacks in the league and has moved up to PFF’s No. 2 rated quarterback slot (88.4) behind New England’s Tom Brady (94.8).
The Falcons are starting to connect on their deep passes, operate well under pressure and they are sticking with the run game – even when it isn’t producing much – in order to make their play-action fakes believable.
The through first six games of the season, Ryan had overthrown 12 of his 23 deep passes attempts of 20-yards or more, according to analytics site profootballfocus.com.
Over the past four games, the timing has been much better with the receivers. He’s only overthrown 3 of 18 of those passes.
In the 34-31 victory over Seattle, Ryan didn’t have an overthrow and completed 3 of 5 of his deep attempts, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo and a 29-yarder to wide receiver Julio Jones on what turned out to be the game-winning field goal drive.
Ryan, since his rookie season, has been strong when blitzed. Even during the lean offensive line years of 2013 and 2014, he performed well when pressured.
Against Seattle, on eight drop backs against pressure, he completed 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked by Sheldon Richardson, who beat right guard Wes Schweitzer, on the other drop back.
As the season has moved on, first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisan has relied on more play-action.
After utilizing play-action fakes on just 22.3 percent of their dropbacks through the first eight games, the Falcons have stepped that up to 33.9 percent in the last two games.
Against Seattle, Ryan was completed 8 of 10 passes off his play-action fakes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He had a 135.4 passer rating while operating play-action.
“It’s always been in our locker room and in our room that that’s always been a part of our identity,” Toilolo said. “The run is always connected to the pass.”
Ryan, who’s the reigning MVP, is clearly getting more comfortable with the re-tooled operation under Sarkisian.
The protection has improved as the season has progressed, too.
“I think our offensive line has done an outstanding job this year,” Ryan said. “We’ve gone against some really good front sevens this year and our guys have stepped up and pass protected really well.”
The Falcons continue to run the ball against Seattle even though they were getting stuffed. Running back Tevin Coleman finished with 43 yards on 20 carries.
“I think sticking to the run even sometimes when we are not putting up gaudy numbers in the run game, but sticking to it helps in terms of pass protection,” Ryan said. “It also helps in terms of creating some explosive runs later in the game. I thought that was critical for us this past week. I think they have done an outstanding job with pass protection and the way that they have run the ball helps that pass protection.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is elated that the deep passing game is starting to work more often.
“We’ve hit on a few of the shot plays in the last couple weeks, and that’s a big part of what we do,” Quinn said. “That’s where some of the explosive plays come from, where the passes are over 20 yards where early in the year we weren’t hitting on some of those.”
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was Ryan’s offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014.
“They are tough to match up with because they have the reigning MVP in Matt,” Koetter said. “You’ve got three really good running backs. Their receiving corps is deep. Of course, Julio (Jones) is fantastic. Sanu has played really good. They are tough to match up with.”
Koetter has a lot of respect for how Ryan plays and prepares.
“It looks like he’s getting coached a lot better,” Koetter said before laughing. “Matt is a heck of a player. Matt is a great guy. Terrific player. Fantastic competitor and congratulations I understand that he and his wife are expecting twins. So congrats to him.”