Looking throughout the football blogosphere it seems that many assume that Matt Ryan’s second year was one of universal decline. What many of these commentators do not do is actually look at the specifics of what took place last year.
I’m not necessarily talking about circumstantial evidence, but more the dynamics and specifics of how the offense worked in the second year. Most Falcoholic's observed that last year it was a different one for the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Teams then had a full year's worth of tape to study not only the new Falcons offense but how Matty Ice threw the ball and where he liked to throw it. These tendencies allowed defences to make numerous adjustments, which allowed them to game plan more effectively in their matchup in 2009.
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But this isn’t all about the excuses people I think its imperative to understand what the offense did last year because its essential in its development this season too. Sure defense will be studying game tape of us but that is something for the Falcons themselves to worry about. Let’s take a look at what transpired last year to make Matt Ryan’s second year an unsuccessful one in the eye’s of the great ESPN analysts.
1. Play Calling
Many of us were furious at the wacky play calling of Mike Murlarkey last year particularly towards the middle part of the season when decisive, strategic calls were needed (Look no further than the end around against the Saints, and that disastrous 1 yard completion on a 4th and 2.) But when it came to the passing game I noticed a particular trend that had me worried for the future development of Matt Ryan.
Looking back the majority of passing plays were designed 15 yards or shorter, either that or Matt Ryan rarely likes to throw downfield. There has numerous reports and interviews that have stated that the Falcons will be having a different approach with their offense and I sincerely hope that. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reported on the Falcons new offensive style for 2010, "The Falcons are working on the pacing of the attack and have expanded their no-huddle...[they] hope to hit teams with more big plays out of the no huddle."
But something is holding me back from being optimistic of a new Falcons explosive offense. Mike Murlarkey is known as a traditional run-first coordinator and I just don’t see that changing over the entire duration of the season. To me it seems that the Falcons are only going to dial up the big plays in the no-huddle offense, thus tipping their hand. Murlakley is known as a creator, but his creativity seems to back fire most of the time. For the Falcons sake let’s hope that he changes his game plan to a more aggressive, simplistic and explosive style rather than the notorious run-first ask questions later mentality.
2. The Tony Gonzalez Effect
Last season’s acquisition of Tony Gonzalez was hailed as a great move by the Falcons front office in part because they only gave up a second round pick which turned out to be Javier Arenas who is unlikely to become a hall of famer any time soon.
Matt Ryan immediately fell in love with Tony G, it almost seemed like our QB had received that Christmas present he’d always wanted and didn’t want to stop playing with it any time soon. But I think that with all of the positives that Tony brings to the offense there are some negatives that often go overlooked.
Spreading the Matty Ice Beer around in 2010.
At times last season Matt often forced a number of balls to Tony that just weren’t there. Looking at film Ryan would force it to the tight-end in two situations. One, if the pocket was collapsing and there was nowhere to go Ryan would throw it quickly in Gonzalez’s direction. This would often result in an interception or a near one.
As well it seemed that Matt would pre-determine that would like to go to Tony even before the ball is snapped. Now I know there’s no way I can prove this but at times it seemed like Ryan neglected other downfield receivers and tried to give Tony the ball. Now I know that when a play is called that there are certain routes that are designed to be the go-to-route. But what sets the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady from the rest is they play the whole field. They use every possible route as an option to pick the defense apart.
This season Matt does have more targets. He has Douglas returning, Meier could factor in and hopefully a more focused Michael Jenkins. However looking at those "other" options none seem certain at all. Douglas’ knee is still a question as many explosive runners who bust their ACL will tell you it takes 2 years to get back to where one was prior to the injury. Meier is a somewhat unknown, but many have speculated Brian Finneran 2.0. And Jenkins has never developed that knack for catching the football that all receivers must have. So Matthew don’t focus too much on Gonzalez, try and see if one of the "others" can receive a few more of your delicious Matty Ice beverages™.
Looking Towards Year 3
This upcoming season will be as tough as previous seasons. There will be adversity; there will be some tough moments. It is how Ryan handles these that will ultimately define him as a quarterback. Many are holding hope that Ryan is going to breakout and become the next Peyton or Brady. I look at it as holding out hope that Ryan is going to breakout and become the great Matt Ryan.
The injury’s, the tough schedule, the play calling, all of it is adversity that has to happen. But if Ryan is to truly maximize his potential he has to not only get through these, but excel despite these.