The Falcons had arguably their most difficult victory of the season against Washington. Luckily, the running game and the defense were able to hold on for a wild overtime win.
Atlanta's biggest concern on Sunday was the passing game. Julio Jones has hampered with a hamstring injury, but that doesn't really excuse the poor outing that Matt Ryan had against a Washington secondary that had really struggled up until Sunday's game.
Most of the film breakdowns so far have been highlighting the strengths and successes that the Falcons have had during games, but it's important to illustrate where the team can use improvement as well.
1. Matt Ryan Looked Uncomfortable
There are certain positions in football where the feet can give you great insight to what is happening with their thought process, and level of comfortability in their assigned tasks. "Isolated" positions (cornerback, offensive tackle, quarterback) where the player's success is dependent on reacting to movements and tasks of other players on the field, have to be confident. Often times, the activity of the feet can show you how what a player is thinking.
Matt Ryan had a severe case of "happy feet" on Sunday which showed that he was a unsettled in the pocket, and the passing attack suffered because of it.
The game against Washington was really the first game where Ryan was under fairly consistent pressure through the day and it played into part of his struggles. Admittedly, this was a bit strange because Matt Ryan was excellent under heat in 2014 with a much worse offensive line.
On the play above the frenetic, unstable action of his feet and his overly wide throwing base show that he wasn't comfortable in the pocket. The pocket was collapsing on him, but this is a throw that Ryan has hit in the past. It remains to be seen if he's not completely comfortable with Kyle Shanahan's passing concepts or if this was just one of those "off games" he tends to have a few times per season. The answer will make itself clear in the upcoming weeks.
There were a few more instances like this on Sunday where Ryan looked panicky in the pocket that led to errant throws. As Matt Waldman put it, Ryan has moments where it appears that he's getting "reacclimated to pressure" throughout the course of the game. Since the passing blocking as been pristine this season, he may just be getting used to heavy pressure again; which he definitely faced against Washington.
2. Issues with Timing
One of the trademarks that's Matt Ryan one of the better quarterbacks in the league throughout his career has been his timing and feel for passing lanes. Ryan has never been a quarterback with rocket arm, so his mental prowess and patience as a passer have to be ratcheted up a notch to compensate.
Those traits definitely weren't there versus Washington.
This passing play calls for a one step drop after the play action fake. The timing with the tight end seam route is set up so Ryan can immediately look up and throw the ball to Jacob Tamme after the fake. Washington was playing Cover Four against this route, which means the seams are protected so the ball has to come out immediately before the underneath and flat defenders and compress the route.
Now, the seam route called on this play is running right into the teeth of the Cover Four. The flat defender on the short side of the field, the safety covering a fourth of the deep portion of the field, and the linebacker playing underneath all have a realistic chance to make a play on the ball. This is why the timing of the play is so critical. Ryan elongates his run fake by a millisecond too long and shrinks the passing lane tremendously in correlation to where Tamme is running his route.
Look at where Tamme is relation to those three defenders by the time the ball is released.
It's clear to see on the endzone view that this ball needs to come out just a hitch quicker. Ultimately this is a very fixable problem, but it's odd to see this offense have these problems in week five. Washington didn't have a fairly complex gameplan and their secondary wasn't great on Sunday, so ultimately it came down to the offense shooting itself in the foot.
Here's another instance where the timing wasn't right.
This play is a combination of the timing issue, and the correlation of a quarterback's feet to their thought process. Look at Ryan's head and feet. He's dead set on throwing to the left side of the field; either Julio Jones running a deep post or Leonard Hankerson running the "in" route. His feet also show that that's where his pre-snap read determined the ball should go.
He locks on for far too long on the left side of the field and once he realizes that he can't hit whichever throw he intended, his feet get "stuck in the mud" and he carelessly flings the ball to Terron Ward. The pass rush was slowly getting to Ryan, but he had more than enough room to reset his feet and throw to Ward with the room that Mike Person and Chris Chester had cleared out on the right side of the pocket.
Washington was playing a simple Cover Two, so Ryan should've immediately identified that Ward's "V" route would be open after he leaked out of the backfield. At this point in his career, it shouldn't take Ryan this long to diagnose a two-deep coverage look. He looked uncomfortable on Sunday; this is just another example.
3. General Inaccuracy
This was a throw that left a lot of people befuddled. Washington had everyone accounted for here and there was good protection, so Ryan could have easily thrown the ball away. This was just another weird throw from an unusual game for him. The problems he showed on Sunday are easily fixable; just seemed to be one of those games that he has once or twice a season.
Ryan's struggles on Sunday kind of boil down to two main issues:
1. He was forcing the error to Julio too often who clearly wasn't 100% after dealing with a lingering hamstring issue.
2. He faced more pressure than he had all season and looked like he was readjusting to being a bit under siege.
Once Julio gets healthy, the passing game should pick up right where it left off in the second half against the Dallas Cowboys. The offensive line is a major bright spot on this team, but they aren't going to perfect every week; Ryan will have to adjust better than he did against Washington.
The best news from this game, obviously, is that the Falcons won the game. Unlike past years the defense and running game is more than capable enough to carry the load when the passing game is struggling. Atlanta is showing a new found resilience that's going to take the team far. The wins won't always be as pretty as they were against Houston, so it's great to see the team pull one out when they struggle for the majority of the game.