The question you see in the headline above is the one recently posited by Yahoo! Sports, and it’s worth more consideration than we’ve given it thus far.
Basically, the argument here is that while you can’t pin all of the Falcons’ woes on Ryan, he has to be better than he was in a career-worst 2015 season for the Falcons to avoid mediocrity this year. While I’m sympathetic to that argument, I think Atlanta can be better even if Ryan “enjoys” another mediocre season.
Why? Because I fully expect both the run game and defense to grow, chiefly. Devonta Freeman slowed down a bit at the end of last year and Tevin Coleman wasn’t quite ready for primetime, and with Freeman’s touches being a little more limited in the year ahead and Coleman hopefully showing improvement, the Falcons can afford to lean more heavily on the ground game. The defense, meanwhile, added young, athletic linebackers, an intriguing rookie safety in Keanu Neal, and help up front with Derrick Shelby joining the team and some shuffling of personnel. The unit should be better than it was in 2015, especially at the basic things like tackling and not falling down, and that should mean improvement.
Naturally, though, the number of back-breaking turnovers Ryan committed will still represent a pretty significant limitation for the offense if he can’t clean them up, because those stop drives, put the defense back on the field, and are just generally very discouraging. The team can be better, but they won’t be much better, in other words.
For the record, I do expect Ryan to improve, and I do expect that to lift the offense and by extension the team. I just think an improved defense and ground game could mean better days for the Falcons even if Ryan turns in a second straight mediocre season. It is worth remembering, though, that the difficulty of the schedule and some of the lingering questions about the team’s talent and/or readiness at key positions like linebacker and wide receiver probably means they’re not a playoff team with a mediocre Matt Ryan.
How about you?