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Buffalo Bills opponent Preview: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan

A look at the veteran signal caller and, by extension, the Falcons’ offense

Based on what I see on Twitter, the 2021 Atlanta Falcons are a bit of a disaster. Their 7-8 record suggests that there’s a bit of promise, especially as that’s only a couple games behind the Buffalo Bills. Team stats suggest some issues, like being 4.3 points per game below league average, or allowing 3.9 points per game higher on defense. The easy conclusion is that former MVP Matt Ryan’s continued presence on the team makes up for other blemishes. So I decided to explore that notion. Let’s take a look at some Matt Ryan outings to see what the Buffalo Bills’ defense will be up against.


Play 1

I always do a stat dive before taking a look at the film and one thing jumped off the page for Matt Ryan. His 2021 intended air yards currently sits at 7.0 yards. As a reminder, this is the average distance the ball travels in the air for all attempted passes. Matt Ryan historically is in the mid eights. That means this year, on average, he’s attempting much shorter passes.

That doesn’t mean it’s all short passes. In the reviewed games, there are a fair number of deeper passes. More importantly, there are a fair number of highlight reel worthy plays. More to come on this concept, but the main point is that the low intended air yards doesn’t mean deep shots are off the menu.

Play 2

From what the internet tells me, poor offensive line play seems to be an Atlanta tradition. It continues this season. The Falcons have allowed 32 sacks, which is actually pretty average. I suspect it’s that good thanks to Ryan and his veteran presence. I also suspect that his low intended air yards are a product of this as well. Shorter passes like this blitz-beating check down seem pretty common.

Play 3

On paper this is about as perfect of a scenario for an offense as it gets. Clean pocket. Receiver wide open as it gets. Ball is thrown in anticipation of what should be a known route. Temperatures in the upper 40s. Wind at nine mph. The adjustment from the receiver suggests someone messed up. It’s hard to know for sure if Ryan’s throw is off the mark or if the route was off, but little issues seem to be holding the Falcons back at times.

Play 4

See what I mean?

Play 5

Overall though, I came away with the impression that Matt Ryan is masking some issues with heads-up plays like this.

Play 6

I also wanted to highlight that Ryan and the Falcons aren’t afraid to take some chances, which can be very dangerous on a team with little left to lose. Ryan’s two favorite targets are Kyle Pitts and Russell Gage. They’ll both fight for the ball and Ryan isn’t worried about letting them do it.

Play 7

The Falcons needed a miracle or seven to win in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers which meant the game was in Ryan’s hands. Ultimately they stalled before scoring but this throw is bonkers.


Summary

There are numerous red flags for this year’s Atlanta Falcons team. I could run through a lot of stats to show that the 7-8 record is likely overachieving but won’t bore you with a lot of numbers. You’ve likely heard the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts.” After watching some game film, I came away with the feeling that this Falcons team is lesser than the sum of its parts.

The Falcons don’t seem devoid of talent, and Matt Ryan looks like he’s far from washed up. A former MVP and some talent at the skill positions shouldn’t be 4.3 points below league average. They shouldn’t have one-third of their games held to 13 points or less. Three of those are under ten points scored. And one shutout. Yet here we are. Matt Ryan is still talented. If the Bills play to their recent level they shouldn’t be overly worried about Sunday’s outcome.