The 2016 Atlanta Falcons offense was the best in franchise history by a wide margin, and one of the best offenses ever to grace the NFL. They were insanely productive and fun to watch, and as is the case with all history-making moments, we’ll be lucky to ever see their like again.
I feel like most everyone outside of the building at Flowery Branch recognizes that the offense is likely to regress a bit. The team lost its steady right guard, its Pro Bowl fullback, and most important its offensive coordinator, who despite his real flaws was a driving force behind the team’s offensive success. They still have all the pieces they need to be an elite offense, but one of the 10-15 or so best in league history? Much tougher to do.
The question, then, is how major the regression will be. I tend to think it’ll be fairly modest, all things considered, with the team still putting up top 5-7 production in terms of yardage and scoring. Others think the whole thing could come crashing down, like notorious Matt Ryan scrutinizer Cian Fahey.
Fahey’s analysis divides the fanbase pretty much every time it gets brought up, but I highly recommend you read his article for the statistical piece, which makes the case that A) linemen health could be a major problem for Atlanta, which I agree with and B) that Ryan is due to regress hard, which I don’t agree with.
The crux of Fahey’s argument is that Ryan had very few passes dropped, threw interceptable balls that defenders didn’t come up with, and his receivers piled up yards after the catch at an unsustainable rate. Taken together, he’s suggesting, there’s a big drop coming.
Only Brian Hoyer was luckier than Ryan last year. None of Hoyer’s four interceptable passes were caught. Four of Ryan’s 23 interceptable passes were caught. 17.39 percent of his interceptable passes were caught. The league average was 39.72 percent. Ryan threw three fewer interceptable passes than Philip Rivers but Rivers had 11 more caught because defenders caught his passes 57.69 percent of the time. Andrew Luck was even less fortunate, he had his interceptable passes caught 64.71 percent of the time.
Like with the health of the offensive line, this isn’t something the Falcons can control. They can’t make defenders miss more opportunities. When Ryan throws the ball directly to Luke Kuechly and he punches it into Julio Jones’ hands it’s got nothing to do with Ryan’s quality or Jones’ quality. It’s pure luck.
The problem with this assumption, at its core, is that we’re lacking historical comparisons. It would be fair in some ways to argue that 2015 Matt Ryan got unlucky with drops and turnovers, given that he had one of the worst seasons of his career. We do know that Ryan hit career high marks in touchdown rate, touchdowns, and yardage, though, and that it is probably best to temper our expectations unless he’s hit a wellspring of eliteness here in the second half of his career. Still, I don’t think Ryan plummeting back to earth is really all that great of an assumption, especially because Fahey notes that Ryan was genuinely careful with the ball a year ago in ways he hadn’t been in the past.
Fahey wraps up his analysis by noting that the defense is due to make huge strides, which could compensate for offensive regression, which we do agree on. I think that given the talent on the roster and Ryan’s real strides, the doom and gloom regression suggested here will not happen. The Falcons will still need the defense to to step up to make up for the garden variety pullback that is probably inevitable.