Last year the Atlanta Falcons won their last three games of the regular season (TB, @MIN, and STL). They did this even though Matt Ryan had bad games—it seemed that Ryan faded down the stretch. His arm seemed to be tired, as he under-threw passes, and couldn't seem to complete passes he made earlier in the season.
Luckily at the same time Ryan was fading his counterpart Michael Turner gained some steam. Let's break down the numbers of each player (and find the proof in the pudding).
Breaking down the Atlanta Falcons season last year reveals some interesting statistics. First, I broke the season into three parts: the first six games (before the bye), the next seven games after the bye, and the last three games of the regular season. Let's dissect the numbers of Matt Ryan first.
It took rookie Matt Ryan a few games to start playing at a high level (understandably). It seemed he came into his own against Chicago in week six: 73.3% comp rate, 301 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT. Ryan's numbers through the first six games are as follows: 60.22% comp rate, 194 yds/gm passing, 5 TD, and 3 INT.
Even though Ryan didn't have spectacular numbers at this point, the surprising Falcons were 4-2 going into their bye. One of the things that helped the Falcons win during that stretch were the numbers of Michael Turner.
During the first six games Turner averaged 99.5 yds/gm and had six touchdowns. Turner rushed for less than 100 yards in three of the six games with Atlanta losing two of them.
If anyone doubts how much Turner's play means to the Falcons, they should know the Falcons went 3-5 when he didn't eclipse the 100 yard mark last season.
In the seven-game stretch after the bye Matt Ryan averaged 253.8 yds/gm, had a 67.1% comp rate, threw nine touchdowns, and had only four interceptions. The Falcons were 4-3 in those games and Turner rushed for less than one hundred yards in all three losses. During that stretch Turner rushed for an average of 96 yds/game and scored eight touchdowns.
The NFL season is longer than college and there are more games. Could this be the reason Ryan faded down the stretch? One could argue that they faced two tough defenses in Tampa and the Vikings, but was that the case? He had a terrible game against St. Louis, which did not have a good defense.
Anyone who watched the games and follows the Falcons could see that things changed near the end of the season. They stopped calling as many down field passing plays, and when they did throw down the field, Ryan often underthrew his target. Ryan's numbers in those three games were: 55.6% comp rate, 166.7 yds/gm, 2 TDs, and 4 INTs. Quite a drop-off, huh?
Meanwhile, Michael Turner's production increased during those three games: 143.33 yds/gm, and three touchdowns. Turner's numbers swelled and that was a big reason the Falcons won those last three contests.
Hopefully in the upcoming season the Falcons will be more consistent rushing and passing. Hopefully Matt Ryan will get accustomed to the longer NFL season and will be in better physical shape to handle the burden.
One thing that is pretty amazing is that Ryan took every snap passing the ball for the Falcons last season. The Burner was also used a tremendous amount and hopefully this season will carry a lesser load.