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Matt Ryan is Not Declining

Updated on November 24, 2015

Why Question Matt Ryan's Abilities?

The Atlanta Falcons are sitting at 6-3 before week ten's bye week. Many people would be happy with a 6 and 3 record, but Atlanta fans are upset. "Why?" you ask. Falcons fans had high hopes of bouncing back in one season and ameliorating their pain from the last two seasons. The Falcons started the season strong at 5-0, which had everyone's hopes soaring, then lost three of their last four games to teams with losing records; two of them being division rivals. The one win among those four games was achieved on a wing and a prayer. Now the Falcons are in second place; 2.5 games behind the Carolina Panthers, 2 games ahead of the New Orleans Saints, and 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only are the fans worried because they are behind the undefeated Panthers or upset about the losses themselves, but they are concerned about the way the team lost. The last four games were riddled with fumbles, turnovers, interceptions, inaccurate throws, short throws, over-throws, bad snaps, dropped balls, sacks, injuries, a multitude of penalties, slow play, a missing pass rush, poor play-calling, and an inability to score once in the red zone.

As quarterbacks tend to get most of the glory when their team wins, they also get the lion's share of the blame when their team loses. That brings us to QB Matt Ryan. As a result of the losses and the low scoring win, some fans are looking at Ryan and questioning his abilities. They suggest that he is hurt, even though he denies injury. They question his arm strength, as he has not been throwing long like he has in the past. Fans have pointed out his throws are off; they are too high, too low, too short, over-thrown, or not accurate. They have blamed him for fumbling the ball on the snaps, looking "uncomfortable," being sacked (yes, for being sacked), the tempo of the game, not being a good leader, not ignoring Shanahan and running the no-huddle, not taking control of the plays, interceptions, and not scoring enough (whew, I think that covers it). As a result of these views, some fans have raised the question, "Is Matt Ryan declining?" Let's take a look at the facts and see if we can answer the question.


Falcons' Record Under Matt Ryan


*indicates season currently incomplete and standings after game 9

Matt Ryan's Accomplishments

Matt Ryan has been the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback for 8 years (2008-2015 seasons). During his time with the Falcons, he has won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2008); tied with Peyton Manning as the NFL Completion Percentage Co-Leader in 2012 (68.6% completions); and has been voted into the Pro Bowl 3 times (2010, 2012, 2014), among other awards. He is ranked #77 in the Top 100 Players of 2015, but was #17 in 2013 and #52 in 2011. Within the Falcons organization, he is the all-time leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. On October 25, 2015, Ryan broke 30,000 career passing yards and became the 5th fastest and the 4th youngest quarterback in NFL history to reach this milestone.

Ryan has taken the Falcons to the playoffs in 4 of his 7 completed season. In 2008 and 2011, he led the team to a second place position in the NFC South and a Wild Card berth; however, the Falcons lost in the first round. In 2010, the Falcons went 13-3 (1st place in NFC South), but lost in the Divisional Playoffs. During the 2012 year, the Falcons' record was 13-3 (1st place), they won the Divisional Playoffs, but lost in the Conference Championship. Matt Ryan has clearly accomplished a lot in his years as a Falcon and is recognized as the best quarterback in Falcons' history.

Before Reading Further...

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Stats for the First Seven Years

Now that we have taken the time to recognize Matt Ryan's many accomplishments, let's look at how he has performed in his first seven seasons as the Falcons' starting quarterback. Ryan played in 110 games between 2008-2014; he missed two games in 2009 due to injury. He has completed 2,508 of 3,916 attempts. His total yards over seven seasons were 28,166 at an average of 7.2 yards per attempt. Ryan threw for 181 touchdowns and 91 interceptions. He was sacked 188 times for a loss of 1,240 yards. He made 248 rushing attempts for 700 yards and averaged 2.8 yards per attempt. Ryan rushed for 5 total touchdowns during those seven years. He has had 33 fumbles and has lost 17 of them. His passer rating over those years was 91.1.

Comparing Past 7 Year's to 2015


Ryan's 2015 Passing Average and Passer Rating is Improved Compared to His First Seven Seasons. His 2015 Rushing Average is Slightly Lower Than His First Seven Seasons. (Scroll to see full table)


First Nine Weeks 2015 vs. Last Seven Years

In the first nine weeks of the 2015 season, Matt Ryan has thrown 357 times for 2,702 yards and completed 239 of his throws. His average yards per throw is 7.6 yards, which is slightly higher than the 7.2 average yards from 2008-2014. He has passed for 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and has been sacked 17 times for a loss of 107 yards. His passer rating is 92.4 so far this year, which is his 3rd highest passer rating when compared to previous years individually and a little over a percentage point higher than his passer rating among the seven earlier seasons combined (91.1). He has rushed 22 times for an average of 2.4 yards per attempt and a total of 53 yards. His average rushing yards is slightly lower than his average from 2008-2014 (2.8). Ryan has fumbled 6 times this season, which is tied with the greatest amount of fumbles he has ever had in a single season. He lost the ball during 3 of the 6 fumbles, and is only one lost ball shy of tying for his most lost in a single year. Refer to the table above to examine all statistics.

Yearly Completion Percentages


Ryan's Completed Passes

Examining completed passes is another tool we can use to determine if Matt Ryan is declining. His lowest average of completions per game came in 2008 when he threw an average of 16.6 completions per game. His average increased every year through 2013 when he threw an average of 27.4 completions per game. In 2014, his completions per game went down to an average of 25.9 per game. Ryan is currently averaging 26.6 completions per game over nine games, which is his 2nd highest per game average just behind his 2013 year. This year's average is also higher than his completion per game average for all of his first seven seasons combined (2,508 completions/110 games), where his average is 22.8 completions.

Next we will consider his percent of attempts completed per season. As of this day, Matt Ryan has completed 64.3% of his pass attempts. To compare his previous seasons to the 2015 season as it stands today, I removed this years stats from the calculations of his career percentage to include only his first seven seasons. Over seven seasons, Ryan completed 62.8% of his pass attempts. In 2015 (nine games), Ryan has completed 66.9% of his attempted passes. This is his 3rd highest completion percentage behind the pass heavy 2012 (68.6%) and 2013 (67.4%) seasons and 2015 is slightly higher than 2014 (66.1%). There is no significant difference between this season and the previous three seasons' completion rate; however, it is 4-14% better than each of the first four seasons of his career.

Looking at the 2015 Season

Maybe looking at this season's play will help us to see that decline that people suggest? We already know the stats on the current season through game nine, as highlighted above. Now let's look at some of the particulars of each game a little closer. The two games in which his percentage of attempts completed were lowest were against the Titans (57.9) and the Redskins (57.1). The Falcons won each of these games. His two highest percentage of attempts completed were against the Texans (70.4%) and the Buccaneers (82.2). The Falcons beat the Texans, but lost against the Buccaneers. Their latest loss came against the 49ers, where Ryan completed 66.7% of his attempted passes. His best passer rating comes from the games playing the Texans (112.6) and his worst was against the Redskins (55.1). In his loss to the 49ers, his rating was 93.1. The greatest amount of touchdowns and interceptions he has thrown in any single game this season has been a grand total of 2. He was sacked 5 times against the Saints and has been sacked at least 1 time in every game, except against the Titans. He did not fumble in the first four games, nor against the Titans or 49ers; however, he fumbled against the Saints (3), Buccaneers (2), and Redskins (1). For each of the games in which he fumbled, he lost the ball to the other team 1 time.

In the past four games, where the Falcons have lost three and won one by the skin of their teeth, Ryan's passer ratings have been: Falcons versus Saints (102), Titans (64.7), Buccaneers (109), and 49ers (93.1). The funny thing is, the one that the Falcons won was the game with his lowest passer rating...or maybe that is the sad thing about it. His percent of attempts completed were in line with his average, except the loss to the Buccaneers was higher at 82.2% and his win against the Titans was low at 57.9%.


Question Answered

We have examined Matt Ryan's career statistics for his first seven years and compared them to his statistics for the first nine games of this season. The comparison concluded that there were no significant differences. We looked at pass completions specifically and nothing different popped out. The number of interceptions he has thrown thus far (if you double it to make a guesstimate for a full season) is less than the amount he has averaged per season in his first seven years. If you double the amount of times he has been sacked this season for another guess at what it will look like at the end of the season (if the trend continues), he will have been sacked more times than most seasons. His fumbles in 2015 will likely be higher than any other season, as they are already tied with the highest amount of fumbles in any season. The amount of fumbles lost will possibly be higher as well.

Quarterback play depends not only on their own ability to rise up to challenges, but also on their teammates who support their play. Matt Ryan depends on his Center to snap the ball precisely. The ball cannot be snapped too high or too low or it throws off his focus and takes valuable seconds away from the time he needs to locate a target and pass the ball. Bad snaps have also caused Ryan to bobble or fumble the ball. Ryan depends on his Offensive Line to protect him from the pass rush; however, with the number of times he has been sacked or hurried, he is consistently needing to locate the runner and get the pass off within seconds. Ryan needs for his targets to run the correct routes and to get free so that the pass, which sometimes leaves his hands before the receiver is in place, arrives safely in the right hands. He relies on Receivers to catch the ball when it is literally placed in their hands. Additionally, he depends on the Running Back to grab the ball smoothly and take caution not to knock it from his hands. Unfortunately, these have been problems Ryan has been dealing with throughout the season. Am I saying that nothing is Matt Ryan's fault? No, I am absolutely not saying that. Ryan has made many mistakes, primarily the interceptions and the inaccurate passes. Sometimes, the incomplete passes are the receiver's fault, but he has thrown his share of poor passes. Luckily, many of the receivers have been able to maneuver to the ball and have saved the pass; however, some of the throws have been irretrievable and some have gone directly to the opponent.

Considering his stats alone, there is no reason to believe Matt Ryan is declining. The struggles of the last four games have simply been a consequence of adjusting to new schemes, poor play calling, working with a new Offensive Line, mistakes made by the team as a whole, and mistakes made by Matt Ryan himself. What do you think is the cause of the Falcons' sudden decline?


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