Matt Ryan put on a stellar performance through the air in the Falcons 24-20 win over the New York Giants. He finished the day with a gaudy 363 yards on 46 attempts, but the most impressive part of his performance was how he dealt with the diverse looks that the Giants were giving him on defense.
Over the years Ryan has greatly improved his presence in the pocket; it's a critical trait that all top-tier quarterbacks possess. Early in the game, this skill was on full display as the Giants sent the house at him on multiple occasions. His ability to stay calm while facing six and seven man blitzes combined with smart, efficient playcalls from Kyle Shanahan allowed the Falcons to move the chains in the first quarter.
Ryan's quick mental processing was on full display on this third down conversion. The Giants employed Cover 0, which means two things: there are no defenders with deep zone responsibilities and they're sending a heavy blitz to get after the quarterback. On this particular blitz they sent seven defenders, putting a lot of stress on the defensive backs. New York certainly isn't hiding the fact that they're going to blitz, they have two linebackers lined up in the A-gaps and the slot cornerback is cheating towards the line of scrimmage.
Kyle Shanahan put the offense in a great position to succeed on this play. Overloading the left side of the field with three receivers to combat the blitz is subtle, brilliant game planning. Before the ball is even snapped Ryan knows where he's going to throw the ball. Leonard Hankerson is running a deep post while Julio Jones runs a curl.
Notice the numbers advantage that Atlanta has on this play. With the slot cornerback blitzing, the Giants only have two defensive backs to cover three potential receiving threats on the left side of the field. Jones and Hankerson are both running routes down the field which immediately opens up the flat route for Jacob Tamme. Ryan takes a fraction of a second to read the blitz off the edge before calmly throwing the ball to Tamme for a first down.
His composure in the midst of a frenetic blitz is an underrated aspect of this play. If Ryan were to panic in the face of pressure this play would've been dead from the start, but his ability to stay calm is key.
When the Giants weren't blitzing, Matt Ryan showed off his timing and anticipation to throw through heavy zone coverages.
The Giants dropped eight men into a "quarters" coverage scheme, which is just another term for Cover 4. Cover 4 has four defenders playing in deep zones. With three men rushing the quarterback and four men with deep responsibilities, the middle of the field can get a bit muddy with the extra four defenders playing underneath.
In order to beat these heavy zone employments in the red zone, the offense needs to be a well oiled machine. The synchronization between the quarterback's drop and the receiver's routes has to be on point in order to throw in such a compressed area. Right as Ryan finishes his three step drop, Hankerson is just coming out of his break and clearing free of the underneath defender while positioning himself in front of the dropping safety.
Ryan beautifully anticipates where Hankerson is going to be in relation to the defenders around and throws a perfect pass. The ball split in between two linebackers and dropped in to Hankerson's chest just before the safety tackled him before the goal line. Throwing in the redzone is already difficult task, throwing in the redzone against eight zone defenders requires a heightened level of anticipation, timing, and an understanding of the offense. It's extremely encouraging to see Ryan and the receivers have a mastery of this offense so early in the seaosn.
When Ryan had to force the occasion on Sunday, he showed supreme confidence in his arm and accuracy. This was a huge third down touchdown that cut the Giants lead from ten to three in the fourth quarter. New York sent five rushers on this play and the offensive line held up well. They gave Ryan the time he needed in order to gauge his throw to Hankerson for the score.
Again, notice the timing between Matt Ryan's feet and Hankerson coming out his break into the endzone. Effectively throwing the ball in the redzone is all about precise synchronization and pinpoint accuracy. Even though Hankerson was covered by two defenders, Ryan trusted that Hankerson would be exactly where he needed to be at the end of his three step drop, and he was. Ryan dropped in a dime where only his receiver could catch it; he threw it over the cornerback playing man coverage and just in front of the safety playing over top. This was one of Ryan's best throws of the day and came at a crucial juncture in the game.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ryan's most impactful throw from Sunday's game. Ryan's mental processing is on display again on this play. The Giants blitzed six rushers on this play while playing a safety deep over the top which meant Julio Jones was going to be in single coverage running a "go" route on the outside. As soon as Ryan notices that he has arguably the best receiver in the game one on one deep down the field, he launches a beautiful rainbow pass that put the Falcons in a situation to set up the game winning score.
Even with the extra rushers Ryan stays calm knowing his dynamic receiver was going to beat his man. At this point, he just has to understand that Julio Jones is going to be a better athlete than whoever is covering him. The spider graphs below show the difference in athleticism between Jones and Prince Amukamara, who was covering him on the play.
When a quarterback has a receiver that's the caliber of Julio Jones, he has to test every one on one opportunity he gets. Ryan led Julio perfectly down the field which set up the Falcons to easily punch the ball in for a Devonta Freeman touchdown two plays later.
Overall, this was one of the more impressive performances I've seen from Ryan throughout the course of his career. He was on point all day long and showed off the mental ability and accuracy that makes him one of the top quarterbacks in the league. To see the passing game functioning at such a high level already is a very, very good sign. The arrow is pointing up for the Falcons and as long as Matt Ryan can produce more efforts like he did against the Giants, the sky is the limit for this team.
Be excited Falcons fans, this is a very good football team that's about to start rolling on all cylinders.