It's quite the thing to be covering a team that is 5-1, and yet hear questions about why our franchise QB has struggled early into the season. I've seen quite a few people talk about it, with some expressing concern or asking if we should be worried. Before we all start writing up trade scenarios that involve Ryan (please don't), I think we should point out that he's currently on pace for almost 4700 yards, 26TDs, a 2:1 TD to INT ratio and a 92.9 QB Rating, which would be the third highest in his career. Stats aside, it is clear that Ryan has been up and down this season though. Here are some thoughts as to why that might be the case.
This one seems obvious and yet it's the one many fans are quick to dismiss. I've seen a few people mention the change we had in 2012, when Ryan had a career year in that offense. Here's the thing, though: Dirk Koetter didn't come in and overhaul the system. In fact, when Koetter joined the team, he was the one who changed his terminology to match what the Falcons had been doing. That dramatically cut down on the learning curve for the players.
With Kyle Shanahan, the offense looks dramatically different. This is not merely an extension of what has been done before - it's an overhaul. Not only has the offensive line changed dramatically with 3 new interior starters, but the way that we run the ball has changed. While the bodies in the trenches have changed, so too have the skill positions. We have several new receiving options in Hankerson, Tamme and Nick Williams while Roddy's role in the offense has diminished.
This is a tremendous amount of change to implement in one off-season, so it's not unreasonable to expect for there to be a learning curve. Unfortunately, when it comes to this broad set of changes, no one is impacted more than the QB. Whereas each receiver can worry about their specific routes, it's the QB that has to know where everyone is supposed to be. While Ryan is one of the smartest QBs playing, it's still a very large undertaking. I fully expect his grasp of the offense to improve over the next several weeks, but there may still be some struggles here and there.
Lack of time with Julio
Lost in the fuss of Julio's nagging hamstring and toe injuries is the fact that our star receiver has missed a significant amount of practice time over the past month. That time missed also means that our QB hasn't had opportunities to work on his timing with his best receiver consistently. The past two or three games have demonstrated this, as Julio's numbers have trailed off and Ryan's passes seem to be ill-timed or poorly placed. As Julio gets healthier and he is able to practice more, his timing with Ryan will undoubtedly improve.
The Snaps - oh god the snaps
When James Stone took over at center on Thursday against the Saints, the issue with snaps became more prevalent. The reality, though, is that it has been an issue all season - even with Mike Person as the starter. One needs only look at replays of the first few games to see that quite a few snaps were low in every game, forcing Ryan to have to drop down to grab the ball. Make no mistake: poor snaps impact the timing of the QB and his ability to secure the ball comfortably before the throw. I won't go through all the instances, but on re-watching several games this season, I can tell you that there were at least 4 different instances where a poor snap impacted a throw in the red zone or resulted in a fumble.
In order for Ryan to play better, he's going to need his center - whether it's Person, Stone or Gradkowski - to snap him the ball cleanly every single snap.
Forcing the ball
Some of you will read the above and think I'm trying to let Ryan "off the hook." Some of that is true, as I do believe the issues above are definite factors. Part of the problem, though, is that Ryan has just forced some poor throws this year. Whether it's not properly reading the defense, thinking he can put a ball in a tight window or just flat out throwing the ball poorly, Ryan has had some very poor moments this season. Some of that may have to do with the fact that Ryan has been unable to trust his defense the past couple of years and has felt the need to score on every drive. Some of it is probably just due to his competitive nature. Either way, it doesn't absolve our QB of some of his mental errors in our 5-1 start to the season.
All told, while Ryan has struggled at times, he's also come through in critical moments. His drive at the end of the Washington game came after one of his worst games in years - and yet he was able to pull it together at the end. Truth be told, I'm not worried at all about the slower start for our QB. I've seen enough out of him in the past 7 years to know that he's going to turn it around. If he decides to save his best football for the second half of the season (and the post-season), that will be fine by me.
What are your thoughts on Ryan's play this year?