Just about every Atlanta Falcons fan is fully aware of the amount of turnover that veteran quarterback Matt Ryan has seen in offensive play callers during his career. As he enters his 14th season in Atlanta, Ryan will have Arthur Smith feeding him plays on game days, and if you count Dirk Koetter twice, that’s his fifth play caller.
He will also enter the season without his favorite target that he has established a connection with over the years. Still, Ryan has passed for 4,000 or more yards in 10 consecutive seasons and will look to add to that total as he continues to build his possible Hall of Fame resume. Today, we will kick off our annual over/under prediction series with Ryan’s passing yardage total for the upcoming 2021 season.
In four of the past five seasons, Ryan topped 4,400 passing yards, which includes eclipsing 4,900 yards in 2016 and 2018. This past season, Ryan was fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,581. That was with the absence of Julio Jones for seven games, a run game that was wildly inconsistent and play calling that was far too predictable.
There appears to be an upgrade with new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith now in place as the likely play caller but of course, the team will take the field without Jones, which takes a massive playmaker off the field. It is obvious that Ryan is still a productive passer capable of posting superb passing numbers, but this will not be the same kind of volume passing attack as it was under Dirk Koetter if all goes well. With that being said, let’s set the baseline at 4,400 yards.
The case for the over
Ryan has had three different offensive coordinators since his 2016 MVP season and the veteran has still topped 4,000 yards with relative ease in each of those seasons since. What was beneficial for Ryan was the fact that at his disposal was a nice abundance of pass catching talent. The same can be said in this upcoming season now that Ryan has the uber-athletic Kyle Pitts in the same huddle as veteran receiver Calvin Ridley, even without Julio. In six of the past seven seasons for Ryan, he has posted an average of 286 passing yards per game while also playing in 16 games in six of the past seven as well.
Despite ranking 28th in total pass attempts last season, the Tennessee Titans offense ranked sixth in the league in passing yards per attempt. That total was reached with Smith as the play caller and showed an offense that was meticulous and efficient with their passing concepts. The shift from Ryan Tannehill to Ryan should be an upgrade in the eyes of many in terms of overall passing ability. Despite the ugly circumstances that were on display last season, the ability of Ryan and his connection with his pass catchers was able to still generate a very productive season in terms of yardage, and it’s fair to expect that again.
The case for the under
With that said, Ryan is one year older and granted, no one can predict how or when Father Time will make his presence felt. Below is a quick screenshot of a few quarterbacks that were above the age of 36 last season, with most not quite topping the benchmark that we set for Ryan in 2021. Courtesy of Pro Football Reference:
Sure, there are a number of variables, but the one common, overhanging effect is age. Also, let’s also account for the colossal development that is the absence of Julio Jones. Jones is a customary presence in the Falcons offense since 2011 and the most important target the quarterback has ever had, and now Ryan has to now adapt to not having the ultra-talented pass catcher. Granted, adding a younger talent in Pitts helps ease that absence, but this will be the first time in ten seasons that Ryan has to adjust to not seeing the legendary Jones making plays in the passing game.
In addition, the presence of Arthur Smith should improve the play calling, but we should also note that his overall scheme is predicated on the foundation of a run game. Ryan has totaled well over 500 total passing attempts in every season since 2009. This past season, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill totaled only 481 attempts. There is a considerable chance that under Smith’s tutelage, the Falcons will be seen leaning on the run game a lot more than usual.