Atlanta struggled through the air (again) on the way to a tough 20-10 loss against the Minnesota Vikings. The passing game has yet to take off in the last six games, and the Falcons have posted an embarrassing 1-5 record over that time.
A lot of generalities are being tossed around about the cohesion between Matt Ryan (who isn't going anywhere anytime soon, drop that story line) and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. At this point in the season, a comprehensive analysis of what's causing the "destruction" of the passing game would be beneficial.
I took some time to chart Matt Ryan's performance against the Vikings, and he wasn't as bad as a lot of people were making him out to be. Here are some interesting numbers that I found through charting the game:
1. On 31 pass attempts, 24 of them were taken from shotgun.
2. The Vikings sent 5+ rushers five times and Matt Ryan was pressured on two of those blitzes.
3. Kyle Shanahan called four play action rollouts and three of them were rolling left, the one that rolled right went for the garbage time score to Nick Williams.
4. Matt Ryan did a great job of navigating the pocket and the offensive line held up well for the most part. The Vikings only registered pressure six times.
5. Of the seven under center pass attempts, all seven of them included play action of some kind.
6. The Falcons drop issues continued; Tevin Coleman had two drops and Julio Jones had one drop.
7. Atlanta threw four redzone passes. Terron Ward, Tevin Coleman, Jacob Tamme, and Nick Williams were the target players on these attempts. The pass to Jacob Tamme was intercepted by Terrence Newman in the back of the endzone.
8. The Falcons ran seven no huddle plays with five of them coming on the same drive after Adrian Peterson ran for a 35 yard touchdown.
9. Matt Ryan's average throw distance through the air was 16.5 yards.
10. Roddy White led the Falcons in targets with eight. He had his best game of the season, hauling in six catches for sixty yards.
Let's take closer look at what the film shows.
Much has been made of Matt Ryan's ability (or inability) to throw on the run, which is a staple of Kyle Shanahan's offenses. Questions regarding Shanahan's ability to adjust to the players in his scheme have become commonplace among Falcons faithful.
Truth be told, Ryan just needs a bit of time to adjust. He's improved with his mechanics and accuracy on rollouts since the beginning of the season. Ryan displayed that continued growth versus the Vikings. Early in the season Matt Ryan struggled across his body on the run, but recently he's slowed his movement, learned to reset his feet on the run, and deliver accurate strikes on crossing routes that accompany play action rollouts.
Ryan was also better at attacking the middle of the field. Of his 31 pass attempts, 15 where thrown into the "middle quadrants" of the football field. He completed 10 of these throws for 126 yards and one interception. Here's an example of what I mean by "quadrants".
The passing game was much more fluid over the middle of the field. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan were in sync and had a few nice completions.
While Matt Ryan's performance against the Vikings was largely positive, the two mistakes he made crippled the Falcons' chances to win the game. The first interception occurred in the second quarter after the Falcons drove from their own fifteen yard line to the Vikings' thirty eight yard line.
Two major issues led to this interception. First, Nick Williams "executed" an extremely weak double move on Captain Munnerlyn that didn't even force him out of his backpedal or leave him grasping for air. Williams isn't a good enough athlete to accelerate out of his sluggish move, and that easily allowed Munnerlyn to trail for the interception.
On Ryan's end, the throw came just a millisecond too late. Williams didn't do him any favors with the route he ran, but if Ryan had thrown the ball when Williams reached the top of his break, then maybe the pass would've had a chance to be completed. This interception is more on Nick Williams than it is Ryan, for me.
The second interception came after the Falcons chewed up seven minutes of clock to start the third quarter.
Like the first interception, there are two major points of influence that led to the interception. The first was Andy Levitre failing to pick up the twist involving Everson Griffen. The pressure forces Ryan to flush the pocket before he makes a terrible throw across his body into tight coverage which was easily picked off. Nick Williams was wide open on the right side of the field and Ryan likely would've found him for an easy pitch and catch if he had time to scan the field.
Here's a closer view of Levitre's blunder picking up the stunt.
Ryan's throw was horrid on a multitude of different levels. Situationally, it ruined potential points and great field position. Atlanta was down 7-3 in the middle of the third quarter; if Ryan had thrown this pass out of bounds it would've been a fairly easy field goal for newly signed kicker Shayne Graham to cut the lead down to one point.
Mechanically, the throw was incredibly sloppy. Ryan didn't have much choice in the matter, he was under siege and in danger of being sacked. Ryan isn't great throwing on the move; he's learned to set his feet on play action rollouts, but resorts to sloppy technique in moments of frenzy. Lastly, there wasn't much room to miss the throw to Jacob Tamme. Terence Newman was sitting on the route which made for an easy interception. Sloppy execution in the redzone has plagued Atlanta all season, and Sunday was no exception.
In my opinion, the last two plays show the lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball. In the offseason the Falcons desperately need to upgrade the offensive line and receiving group. Stay patient, because Atlanta has been an abomination of a football team the past two seasons. Even though the team started off 5-0, a one year rebuild was outlandish to seriously entertain in hindsight. Allow Kyle Shanahan and Dan Quinn a chance to upgrade the personnel on offense before calling for their heads on a stake.