According to Pro Football Reference, Matt Ryan has played 10,588 snaps for the Atlanta Falcons since 2012, which is the earliest season for which snap-count data is provided. When accounting for postseason snaps, that number crosses the 11,000 threshold. Of course, that number doesn’t include four years’ worth of snaps played by the former No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft.
Whether you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame or should have been shown the door years ago, there’s no denying that Ryan has been one of the signature members of this team, and one of the most consistent. No longer.
The post-Matt Ryan era is officially here for the Falcons. So, what does the Falcons’ offense look like without No. 2 running the show?
We’ve already seen the added elements of mobility at the quarterback position on display, most notably with starter Marcus Mariota. That aspect of his game will undoubtedly be featured by Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, but to what degree? Will it prevent more sacks from occurring or provide defenses more opportunities for them? Mariota’s athleticism will be an advantage that Ryan didn’t possess, but will he prove to be as effective moving the ball through the air?
The answers to these questions—and there are many more obvious ones I’m not listing—will impact more than just the quarterback position. If Mariota – and rookie Desmond Ridder – do fare worse than Ryan did as a passer, it could hold back players like Kyle Pitts and Drake London, the team’s most recent first-round picks.
It could also mean the Falcons are forced to rely on the run game a bit more, and the backfield is still a bit of an unknown behind Cordarrelle Patterson at this point. Oh, and Patterson’s true X-factor nature relies upon his skills as a receiver at times.
None of this is to say that Mariota (and eventually, Ridder) won’t prove to be terrific passers and that the passing game won’t hum along, but it’s an introduction to how we’ll be thinking about and deciphering this offense, and how the change at quarterback could impact it. Smith is certainly familiar with incorporating mobility at the quarterback position into his offense—we all know Ryan Tannehill, right?—and his past experience with Mariota is a positive for this team.
In many ways, Smith may be excited to open up some different elements of his playbook because of what Mariota brings to the table that Ryan didn’t. However, Ryan’s impact extended beyond Xs and Os. He was the unquestioned leader on the field. It was his offense, and he was running the show.
Mariota has a different energy, and Smith has made it pointedly clear that they aren’t asking him to come in and lead as Ryan did. He must be authentic to who he is, but how will that leadership style manifest on Sundays, and what will it mean for this team?
A lot has changed for the Falcons since 2008, but Ryan was always the constant. When the offenses were at their best, he was usually part of the reason why. When they weren’t, he was a prime reason to believe the team could figure out a way to return to better days.
Now the Falcons don’t have that familiar face behind center, and we’re about to find out what a post-Ryan offense looks like in Atlanta, and whether we’re in for glorious new beginnings or the beginnings of some growing pains.