Matt Ryan Is Not Living Up to His Massive Contract for the Atlanta Falcons

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterNovember 3, 2013

Carolina Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, along with cornerback Drayton Florence, were all beneficiaries of poor decisions by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday.

Ryan made four Week 8 mistakes too. Arizona Cardinals safeties Rashad Johnson (twice) and Tyrann Mathieu left that game smiling, as did linebacker Daryl Washington.

Ryan’s tossed seven interceptions in his last two games—a 14-point loss in Arizona and a 24-point drubbing at the hands of the Panthers in Charlotte—and is not living up to the massive $103.75 million contract he signed in July.

It’s not all Ryan’s fault. Let’s start there.

Ryan’s top two targets at wide receiver are missing. Julio Jones is gone with a season-ending foot injury, and Roddy White hasn’t been the same since Atlanta’s second preseason game, when he injured his ankle. A hamstring injury to compound the effects of his ankle injury have kept White off the field for the last three games.

Atlanta’s offensive line hasn’t been doing Ryan any favors either. Ryan was only sacked once by the Panthers, but he was under duress for much of the day. Leading into Week 9, Ryan had been under pressure 40.9 percent of the time he’s dropped back to pass, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

As easy as it would be to give Ryan a pass because of all the injuries and ineffective play surrounding him, he carries a lot of the blame. Not necessarily blame for the Falcons' 2-6 record, but Ryan must do a better job of keeping Atlanta’s offense moving.

The Falcons had just 12 first downs against the Panthers and gained a total of 289 yards, 78 on the ground and 211 through the air. It was the third consecutive week Atlanta failed to reach 300 total yards of offense after doing so in each of the first five games of the season and 18 of its last 21 games dating back to last season.

Ryan’s steady improvement since he entered the league in 2008 netted him that humongous contract. But it also piled on a ton of expectations.

As a member of the $100 million contract club, he’s entered a fraternity of elite passers.

By looking at contracts alone, it shouldn’t be a reach to mention Ryan’s name with Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. But Ryan hasn’t elevated his game to their level yet, and it’s not all about Jones and White being injured.

Rodgers went 24-of-29 last week, posted a 130.6 passer rating and threw two touchdown passes. Two of his three biggest targets were wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Myles White. Boykin had just five receptions last season and hadn’t played in the first four weeks of Green Bay’s season. He was thrust into action after a slew of injuries plagued the Packers.

White was a rookie on Green Bay’s practice squad until Oct. 15.

If Rodgers can make do with replacement-level receivers, why can’t Ryan?

After tossing four picks last week, no one would have faulted Ryan for taking a cautious approach against Carolina. Instead, he forced the football into situations he shouldn’t have with regularity.

Ryan’s first interception Sunday was partially due to great coverage from Kuechly at linebacker on tight end Tony Gonzalez. But mostly it was a mistake. Not only was Kuechly dragging step-for-step with Gonzalez, but safety Quintin Mikell and linebacker Chase Blackburn were right there. It wasn’t exactly triple coverage, but there were too many blue jerseys around for Ryan to throw that pass.

There was a touch of bad luck on Ryan’s second pick. Mikell batted the pass up, and a trailing linebacker, Thomas Davis, grabbed the free ball out of the air. While the awkward bounce of the ball was unlucky, Ryan still threw the football into double coverage (Mikell and safety Mike Mitchell) with Davis close enough to be effective.

There was no one to blame but Ryan on his third interception of the game. Ryan was targeting Drew Davis on the sideline, but he didn’t get enough zip on his pass. Cornerback Drayton Florence stepped in front of the pass easily and took it 38 yards for a touchdown.

Ryan had an off day, his second game in a row. The high-paid front man for the Falcons can’t afford to play like this any longer. Because of his $103.75 million contract, at best Ryan is expected to put this team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. At worst, he shouldn't be hurting his team.

With seven interceptions and only two touchdown passes in his last two games, Ryan is hurting the Falcons.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand. Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.