Of all the odd things about the 2017 season for our Atlanta Falcons, the gap between Matt Ryan’s statistical performance and actual performance was probably the oddest. A year after winning MVP with a season that saw him throw 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, Ryan cashed in a 20 touchdown and 12 interception season that looked downright anemic on paper.
Yet I was reminded this morning that Ryan finished up as Pro Football Focus’s #2 quarterback for the season. What gives?
Let’s count some of the ways things went awry for Ryan in 2017 that were largely out of his control.
- The Falcons landed Steve Sarkisian at offensive coordinator. Sark, whatever benefits he might have brought to the table, did not show a great feel for getting players open and involved, and as a result Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, and Taylor Gabriel all had worse seasons that you might have anticipated.
- Ryan threw eight interceptions this year that were either dropped into someone else’s hands, bounced off a receiver’s hands, or bounced off a receiver’s hand and rolled around on a defender’s butt until it was picked up. Considering he threw 12 interceptions in 2017, it’s fair to say that literally 2/3rds of those picks shouldn’t have happened. I’m receptive to the argument that he might have thrown 2-4 of those regardless, because he also had some bad throws that simply weren’t picked.
- The Falcons led the NFL with 30 drops. If you were to assume some of those were based on the kind of throw Ryan made, which I would, that would be more than fair. Even if you were to take away half of Ryan’s picks and his receivers’ drops, though, he would have finished the year with eight interceptions and a nearly 68% completion percentage. Take away all of them and he would have been at four interceptions, a nearly 72% completion percentage, and likely MVP-caliber numbers for the second straight season.
Now, let’s be clear here: Matt Ryan was not going to win MVP again in 2017. Even if all those unlucky throws and ugly drops had gone the other way, Ryan would have not have matched his 2016 numbers, and he would’ve needed to with Tom Brady doing his Tom Brady things and Todd Gurley having a great year. This isn’t about an award or a lack of recognition so much as it is about hope for the future.
If you want to bet on Ryan bouncing back—and I do—these numbers give you a ton of reason to think that’s realistic. The Falcons haven’t shown that they’re a drop-happy team in previous years, which means those numbers should even out somewhat. The number of unlucky interceptions is likely to drop due to sheer luck alone, and the Falcons are unlikely to stand pat with their supporting cast on offense after such a disappointing year. It’ll also be Sarkisian’s second season at the helm, which means he should theoretically be better equipped to run the offense. Even if the Falcons only see modest gains and/or breaks in those areas, Ryan should have a much better season, and the offense should benefit.
So comfort yourself knowing that while Ryan’s 2017 wasn’t a great season by any objective measure, he was a lot closer to having one than the numbers would suggest.