Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: What Has Happened to Matt Ryan?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterDecember 9, 2015

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan speaks to the media following an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco/Associated Press

1. Do the Falcons need to find a new quarterback?

It is rare to see a quarterback that so many people once believed was one of the best in the sport fall so precipitously off a cliff. But that is what's happened to Atlanta's Matt Ryan

Ryan made yet another crappy throw. This time it was in the final minutes of the Falcons' game Sunday against the Buccaneers. It was picked off for his ninth interception in his last six games.

I've always said that Ryan was dramatically overrated, but this is shocking even for critics like me.

So what has happened?

ESPN's Vaughn McClure recently reported Ryan has been overwhelmed by the playbook of new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but frankly, I find it difficult to believe that a veteran like Ryan could be this overwhelmed by anything.

I really think a longtime scout got exactly right what's happening to Ryan. This is what he told me:

"Matt is lost. He has no confidence. He's telegraphing his throws. He doesn't trust his line. He doesn't trust his wide receivers. I haven't seen a player lose his confidence this fast since Ryan Leaf."

Oh my God...the "L" word.

Whatever the reason, what's certain is that Ryan is wrecked. What the Falcons have to determine is how badly.

Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston (92) during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Is this a trend? Is Ryan so broken that the Falcons will have to go out and draft another quarterback or find one in free agency? Or does the team see this as a blip?

This choice is not easy. The Ryan sycophants (and they're still out there) will say thoughts of replacing him are ridiculous. But it isn't ridiculous. All of the Ryan excuses are gone now. His offensive line play has not been terrible. He has a running game. He has elite receiving talent. He has everything he should need.

The Falcons are struggling almost exclusively because of Ryan. If this continues, the Falcons will have a brutal decision to make.

Meanwhile, Ryan just threw another pick.

 

2. How many QBs could throw the Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary?

Aaron Rodgers' amazing throw to beat the Lions remains one of the most talked-about plays this season. It will be one of the most talked-about plays in the history of the sport.

I've marveled at it, and in response, the usual haters have emerged to say the throw wasn't a big deal. In fact, I had many on Twitter telling me any quarterback in football could make it. So I decided to put that stupid notion to the test.

What makes the throw amazing is that it happens on four different planes. First, Rodgers escapes. Second, the distance. Third, the accuracy. Fourth, and most important, is the arc of the football.

So let's play this game. And I must say, first, this is not an exact science. It's likely I will miss a name or two, or a get a few wrong. But I think this is pretty good. I tried to stick with starters.

In terms of the first category, escapability, I'm eliminating the following quarterbacks: Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Peyton and Eli Manning, Andy Dalton, Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Jay Cutler, Matt Hasselbeck, Brock Osweiler, Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub, Blaine Gabbert, Josh McCown, Sam Bradford and Nick Foles.

Right there, 18 quarterbacks are eliminated. You can quibble with some, sure, but I think all of those players would have been sacked. Brady is so slow, he would have been sacked twice.

(Note: I'm going to include Tony Romo for giggles, despite his being out for the year. He makes that first cut.)

Roger Steinman/Associated Press

The next category is distance. How many could throw the football over 60 yards in the air? This one is trickier, but my experience is that not many quarterbacks can launch it as far as people think.

I'm eliminating: Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Brian Hoyer, Tyrod Taylor and Nick Foles.

So that's 26 gone. We are down to, approximately: Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck (including him since he'll likely start again this season).

On to the third category, which is accuracy. Gone are Tannehill (who has trouble hitting targets 20 yards away), Luck (who has been an interception machine lately), Newton, Romo, Carr and Winston.

We are down to just Wilson and Roethlisberger. The hardest part of Rodgers' throw was the arc. His football nearly hit the rafters in the building. There is great video of this circulating on Twitter:

That high toss is purposeful. It allows the football to drop out of the sky instead of traveling on a flatter course that would make it easier to knock down.

This one is close, but I don't think Wilson can throw it that high and that far.

That leaves Roethlisberger as the only guy playing now who I think, in addition to Rodgers, could make that throw.

(I did forget Blake Bortles and Joe Flacco. I think both have the mobility and arm strength—but not the accuracy.)

 

3. And what about in history?

Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

I think it comes down to a handful of names. I went to players in the Hall of Fame since I think only Hall of Fame-caliber talent could make that throw. These are the names (and remember the four categories): John Elway, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young. And maybe Brett Favre.

 

4. Can the Panthers go undefeated?

The players in the Carolina locker room seem to genuinely like one another. Trust me: This is not an overly common thing. Even among teams that function on a high level, even a Super Bowl level, there is often tension in the locker room throughout the season. This isn't the case in Carolina.

Why does this matter? One thing I learned in writing a book on the undefeated Miami Dolphins was that locker room ended up being extremely tight. There were certainly clashes, but as the season went on, the group became among the closest in NFL history.

Those players believed that closeness helped them become unbeaten. I think that same phenomenon is working now in Carolina.

 

5. Great Cam Newton statistic

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

I don't think people get just how well Cam Newton is playing. He has a great player at tight end, but the rest of his receiving targets are, well, bad. So bad. How bad?

According to Pro Football Focus, Devin Funchess (26.92 percent) and Ted Ginn (18.6 percent) have the highest and fourth-highest drop rates among qualifying wide receivers. On Sunday, Ginn dropped at least one more sure touchdown.

Even when Newton's receivers get open, he's not working with much there.

 

6. Yeah, that was crazy

John Froschauer/Associated Press

I set off a mini-Twitter rampage when I said Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant was better than Antonio Brown. Not quite what I meant to say.

However...

I don't believe the gap is as large as some would believe. The better way to express what I said is Bryant will be better than Brown. I believe that's fair. The reason is Bryant has that great combination of size and speed. Once he learns the entirety of how to run routes—something that will happen soon, if not this season—he will be the best in football.

Go ahead. Rampage away.

 

7. My MVP ballot

Ryan Kang/Associated Press

If I were filling it out now, it would be:

1. Newton

2. Brady

3. Palmer

And I'm beginning to elevate Russell Wilson up my list. And Adrian Peterson is on the way down.

I think the award is now Newton's to lose. 

 

8. NFL got the extra point right

This past week, there were nine extra points missed. The week before: eight. In each of the previous two seasons, before the NFL moved the extra-point kick back, there were eight missed total.

The league got this so incredibly right. The extra point is no longer automatic. It's actually becoming a tad thrilling. The extra point, more than ever before, is fun to watch.

 

9. Is Jason Witten a Hall of Famer?

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

On Monday night, he made his 1,000th catch. It's quite a milestone. But is it Hall of Fame worthy?

Witten was one of the best tight ends of his generation, and that's how I qualify if a person should be in or not. However, I don't think he'll get in, and if he does, it may take a decade or longer.

This story from the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin smartly explains why. The position just isn't highly respected by voters, and there is often a long wait and few entrants. It took John Mackey, the best ever at the position, 15 years to get in. Mike Ditka had to wait 12. They were both far better than Witten.

This paragraph from Gosselin's story says a great deal:

There are only eight tight ends in the Hall, and Charlie Sanders, an all-decade pick from the 1970s, had to wait 25 years to get in as a senior. Ron Kramer, who joined Mackey on the 50th anniversary team, has never even been discussed as a finalist. He's been eligible now for 43 years. Ben Coates, an all-decade pick from the 1990s, also has never been discussed. He's been eligible for 10 years.

On and on it goes. Again, I would vote Witten in, but I don't think he'll make it.

 

10. Michele Tafoya's 200th game

Don Wright/Associated Press

Michele Tafoya will work her 200th game this Sunday. She has long been one of the best journalists in the industry, as well as a class act. To work 200 games in a business that isn't always A) kind to female journalists, especially ones that aren't 21 years old and blonde, and B) treats sideline reporters like replaceable parts, says a great deal about her talents. Working 200 sideline games is the television equivalent of Brett Favre's consecutive games streak.

Speaking of Favre, in a press release about Tafoya's accomplishment, NBC asked about her favorite moment. This is what she said:

Favre was now the starting QB for the Vikings, a division foe. The game was in the Metrodome, and that building was electric even before a single fan arrived. I was told before the game that if the Vikings won and I got Favre for the post-game interview, I could have as much time as I wanted. You never hear that as a sideline reporter! The Vikings did win. I did corral Favre for the post-game interview, and he was fantastic. One of the questions was (and I'm paraphrasing), "You're the first QB to defeat all 32 teams in the NFL. What does that mean to you?"  Brett responded, "Well, I guess we all have to be remembered for something." Classic Favre.

Congratulations to Tafoya.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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