Matt Ryan has had a down year. Statistically, yes, but in every other way you can imagine, as well. Ryan missed a game for the first time since 2009, threw his highest pick total since 2015, and was sacked a career-high 48 times. That’s painful history to be making when you’re 34 years old.
In case you’re wondering how bad that season is in comparison to all the others in franchise history, it’s the second-highest number of sacks a quarterback has ever absorbed for this football team. Steve Bartkowski took 51 back in just 14 games back in 1983, meaning the Falcons just missed the mark given that Matt Schaub also took two sacks during his one-week fill-in. The line was historically bad this year, and the evidence was all over the field.
I still think the major argument for clearing out the front office and Dirk Koetter concerns that offensive line. Chris Lindstrom looks like he’s going to settle in as a quality, multi-year starter if he stays healthy, but Kaleb McGary’s rookie season was uneven, James Carpenter was mediocre before he got hurt, and Jamon Brown was mediocre before the team unceremoniously benched him. The Falcons have a couple of vaguely-to-really promising young linemen in Sean Harlow and Matt Gono, but neither saw the field all that much, and now the team is facing an offseason where they have to make a decision on Brown, Carpenter, impending free agent Wes Schweitzer, and declining (but still quality!) center Alex Mack.
Then there’s Koetter. Ryan’s two most-sacked seasons have come with Dirk at the helm, and while he can’t entirely be blamed for 2013 given the absolutely putrid personnel at this disposal, he had a major role in this year’s problems. The Falcons had too many slow-developing plays, Koetter has shown little aptitude for getting guys open, and there simply wasn’t enough help on hand to overcome that.
It’s beyond concerning that the emphasis on fixing the offensive line and getting more out of the offense in 2019 accomplished neither. Lindstrom, Jake Matthews, and perhaps McGary are building blocks, but there’s much work to be done to actually fix things in 2020.
Update: An interesting prism to look at this through comes from our old friend Charles McDonald, who pointed out that the sack rate for the Falcons was only 16th in the league thanks to a league-high number of dropbacks.
falcons gave up 50 sacks, but also led the league in pass attempts with 684. they finished 16th (6.8%) in sack percentage— charles (ronald) mcdonald (@FourVerts) December 31, 2019
That’s a small consolation given that they still took the second-most quarterback hits in the league and were a deeply inefficient passing attack, but it does make it clear why Dan Quinn was talking a lot about offensive balance rather than a broken line on Monday.