Can Matt Ryan really be as good as his Week 1 performance in Kansas City showed?
Ryan was 23 of 31 for 299 yards and threw three touchdown passes. He also ran for another. More impressive was his uncanny precision.
Only once last year did Ryan complete a higher percentage of his passes than he did Sunday, when he connected on 74.2 percent of his throws. Only once did he have a higher quarterback rating than the 136.4 he posted in Kansas City (Ryan’s Week 17 146.3 rating wasn’t factored in because Ryan played very little in favor of being rested for the playoffs).
I wrote Sunday that Ryan—after just one week and three preseason games—showed he’s ready for a monster season. Here’s a look at three reasons why.
When Ryan is running the no-huddle, he’s calling the plays. And even though the Falcons run the no-huddle frequently, the offense is still drawn up with a number of scripted plays—that falls on new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
A feature that instantly was apparent Sunday was Koetter’s use of a change of depth in the passing attack.
Ryan was 9-for-13 on passes of 10 yards or more, and even though he missed on his only attempt of over 20 yards, he was surgeon-like between 10 and 20 yards.
When Ryan threw it between 10-19 yards, he had a 156.3 quarterback rating throwing to the middle of the field and a 154.2 going to the right, according to Pro Football Focus (account required).
The tone of these medium-length passes would be set early when Julio Jones got behind the linebackers (more on that later) and caught his first pass of the game, a 25-yard gain.
As you can see, there wasn’t a linebacker within five yards and the closest help from the secondary was eight yards deep.
In addition to these medium-length passes, Koetter designed a number of screen passes—an element missing from the Atlanta offense under Mike Mularkey.
The first screen pass of note came in the second quarter, when the Falcons lined up with an empty backfield.
Roddy White took three quick steps forward and then broke inside, allowing blockers to slide out in front. Jacquizz Rodgers executed a perfect pick screen and Tyson Clabo lumbered out to offer some up-field blocking.
With Rodgers and Clabo occupying blocks, White bolted into the middle of the field and gained 16 yards.
Julio Jones would score on this same play later in the drive that was flip-flopped to his side of the field.
The combination of Ryan’s vertical threat with the underneath screen passing allowed the Falcons to move the ball all game.
Effective Play Action
Michael Turner didn’t have the best statistical day of his career, but the threat of Turner exploding kept the Kansas City linebackers up close to the line of scrimmage all afternoon.
Turner carried the ball twice to open the game and ran it over the right guard and up the middle. He gained two and six yards, respectively, but more importantly, he got the Chiefs linebackers to think run.
Once again, looking at Jones' 25-yard catch in the first quarter, you’ll see Ryan execute a play-action fake and the Kansas City linebackers react. Derrick Johnson freezes while Jovan Belcher takes a number of steps forward towards the line. Neither reacted quickly enough to Jones sneaking behind on a slant.
The threat of Turner running allowed Ryan to use the play fake throughout the entire game, and the Falcons will use this method all season long. Turner will eventually have to break a few runs long for the play fake to continue to have complete effectiveness, however.
Solid Offensive Line Play
According to Pro Football Focus (account required), no quarterback who dropped back more than 30 times on Sunday was pressured less than Ryan.
Of Ryan’s 35 dropbacks, he was pressured eight times. He went 3-for-6 on those plays, taking one sack, throwing one ball away and was hit once while throwing.
To be touched just twice by pass-rushers and to be under pressure just 22.9 percent of the time speaks volumes of both the Falcons' offensive line and Ryan’s ability to get the ball out quickly.