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Matt Ryan isn’t a system quarterback, he is the system

Matt Ryan makes offensive coordinators, not the other way around.

Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

One of the most hilarious anti-Matt Ryan arguments you’ll find on social media is people calling him out for being a system quarterback.

Both rival fans and Falcons fans who blindly hate Matt Ryan (this group of people is much worse than the former) like to point to Kyle Shanahan as the sole reason for Matt Ryan doing anything good on the football field in his life.

Most Falcons fans know that this argument is incredibly weak and false. The purpose of this article is to look at how the numbers destroy this anemic and frail criticism of the best quarterback player in Falcons history. We’ll look at Ryan’s separate stats with every offensive coordinator he’s had in his career, and where that coordinator ended up afterward.

*Each statistic calculated will be Ryan’s average per season rate with that particular coordinator. Each figure will be rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

Mike Mularkey (2008-2011)

Stats - 3560 yards per season; 24 touchdowns per season; 12 interceptions per season; 88.0 average passer rating

Analysis: Ryan’s numbers with Mike Mularkey, in his first four years in the league, are understandably the weakest out of all four of his OCs. He was, after all, a rookie quarterback in 2008, and was slowed down by a late-season injury in his sophomore campaign in 2009.

Mularkey also took the ball out of Ryan’s hands and put it into Michael Turner’s as much as possible. Ryan was a young QB who was more of a game manager than anything else in those initial few years. His life was made exponentially easier by Turner’s presence, as he was allowed to patiently grow into the QB he would eventually become.

Ryan’s peak season under Mularkey was in 2010, when he led the Falcons to a 13-3 record and tallied a TD/INT ratio of 28/9, also earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl in the process. In 2011, he achieved his first ever 4000-year season.

Mularkey parlayed his time with Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s offense into a head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars, before getting fired after his initial 2-14 season in Duvall County. He then became Tennessee’s tight ends coach in 2014, and eventually the interim head coach in 2015. He lasted two seasons as head coach of the Titans in 2016 and 2017 after the removal of the interim tag.

Mularkey is currently back in Atlanta as the team’s tight ends coach.

Dirk Koetter (2012-2014)

Stats - 4643 yards per season; 29 touchdowns per season; 15 interceptions per season; 94.2 average passer rating

Analysis: Under Dirk Koetter is where Matt Ryan took that next step in his career into elite territory. Koetter removed a lot of the restrictions placed on him by Mularkey, who was an old school “run the ball” kind of coach.

Ryan flourished despite having no run game to lean on in these three years. The addition of Julio Jones made the offense even more potent.

2012 was the best season of Ryan’s career up until that magical 2016 campaign. 4719 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 32/14 helped Atlanta to a second 13-3 record in three seasons and put Ryan into MVP conversations.

In 2013, Ryan somehow managed to throw for over 4500 yards and 26 TDs despite having Harry Douglas as his number one wide receiver for most of the year (he turned Douglas into a 1000-yard receiver), because of injuries, and maybe the softest offensive line in football. Everything fell onto Ryan’s shoulders as the team collapsed around him.

Ryan was once again very good despite having no run game or offensive line protection in 2014. He had nearly 4700 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 28/14. Atlanta lost a lot of games in 2013 and 2014 but that was mainly because the defense was putrid (as it has been throughout most of his career in Atlanta). Ryan was a Pro Bowl selection in two of the three years with Koetter as his OC.

Koetter moved on to fill the OC position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the coaching staff replacements in Atlanta after the 2014 season, and he would eventually become the Tampa head coach for three seasons before being fired following the 2018 campaign. He’s back in Atlanta as the team’s offensive coordinator for a second stint.

Kyle Shanahan (2015-2016)

Stats - 4768 yards per season; 30 touchdowns per season; 12 interceptions per season; 103.1 average passer rating

Analysis: 2015 and 2016 were night and day seasons for Matt Ryan. I would argue that 2015 was the worst professional season of Ryan’s career. Statistically, it wasn’t worse than 2008 and 2009, but Ryan was an eight-year pro in 2015 and just starting out in 2008.

Ryan struggled within Shanahan’s new scheme in 2015, and he contributed very much to the team’s collapse following a 5-0 start to the year. His 3.4% touchdown percentage was a career low and his TD/INT ratio of 21/16 was the worst in his career outside of his rookie season.

In 2016, however, a switch was flipped and the result was the greatest season ever by an Atlanta Falcon. Ryan more than doubled his touchdown percentage to a league leading 7.1%, tallied 4944 yards, a TD/INT ratio of 38/7, and a league leading passer rating of 117.1. He was the runaway MVP.

This 2016 season is what casual football fans point to more than anything in their argument that Ryan was made by Shanahan. However, Ryan has put up big numbers throughout most of his career outside of 2016. This isn’t a situation like what we saw from Nick Foles in a 2013 anomaly season where he legitimately was a product of Chip Kelly’s system.

2016 was a bit of an outlier, but it wasn’t as drastic as many try to make it seem.

Kyle Shanahan parlayed Ryan and the team’s success in 2016 into a very secure head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers, where he currently has a record of 10-22 in his first two seasons.

Steve Sarkisian (2017-2018)

Stats: 4510 yards per season; 28 touchdowns per season; 10 interceptions per season; 99.8 average passer rating

Analysis: Much like with Shanahan, Ryan struggled in year one when attempting to click with his new OC (on paper), but then took off in year two.

Sarkisian, in 2017, held the offense back with his play calling more than anybody since Mike Mularkey, taking the Ferrari that was the Falcons’ historic offense from a year ago and driving it like a Fiat. Ryan suffered from some awful luck to put up a TD/INT ratio of 20/12 along with his lowest yardage total since 2010. However, he was graded out as the second-best QB in the NFL by PFF, and had a league-low 0.9% of throws which were turnover worthy despite having double digit interceptions.

In 2018, Ryan’s raw statistics met his level of advanced play due to positive regression, and a better chemistry with Sarkisian. He threw for 4924 yards, 35 TDs, and seven interceptions in what was his best statistical season outside of 2016. Ryan being passed up for a Pro Bowl spot was a travesty of the highest order.

Sarkisian was a sacrificial lamb in a season that didn’t live up to expectations. He was axed along with nearly every other assistant coach, and was re-hired as the OC at Alabama.

Matt Ryan has been an elite quarterback in the NFL since 2012. He has the most passing yards in history for a player through his first 11 seasons (46,720). He has thrown for 4000 passing yards for eight consecutive seasons. He’s currently 12th all time in career passing yards, and is on pace to be first by the end of his career.

The Falcons are 102-72 in Matt Ryan’s career (0-2 in games in which he didn’t play) despite giving him a top 10 statistical defense just once. Despite the fact that the Falcons have been outside of the top 20 in defense seven times in Ryan’s 11 seasons. Despite the fact that they’ve shuffled through four offensive coordinators in that time period.

Matt Ryan has continually played at a high level throughout his career, no matter who his offensive coordinator has been — whether it was someone who put it all together like Shanahan, somebody inexperienced at the NFL level like Sarkisian, or someone whose offensive mentality was always stuck in the 1970s and has thus relegated him to being a tight ends coach like Mularkey.

Matt Ryan has set every one of his offensive coordinators up for head coach roles except for Sarkisian. He’s done more for their careers than they have for his. Matt Ryan isn’t a system quarterback, he is the system.