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The Falcons Offense And QB Matt Ryan: Mediocrity Or Something Else?

Raise your digital hand if you thought Matt Ryan would make the jump from "pretty good" to "elite" this season. I know I did. The writing was on the wall: coming off a Pro Bowl year, Ryan entered the 2011 with more weapons than ever before- Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers, and a healthy Harry Douglas- and was in command of an offense filled with promises of "explosiveness."

And yet here we are halfway through the season, and Ryan's stat line sounds pretty unremarkable: 1683 yards passing, 61.1% completion, 8 TDs, 9 INTs, and a 79.5 passer rating. Ryan certainly hasn't been bad, but he has noticeably struggled at times during the ball game this season. Why is that exactly? Well, let's dive in and take a look:

The first aspect of Ryan's struggles- and of the Falcons offense in general- is inability to score points in the second half. Whatever the reason, it's easy to see the difference between first-half Matt Ryan (66.7% completion, 88.1 QB rating) and second half Matt Ryan (56.5% completion, 72.4 QB rating) this season.

Even more puzzling is that the more Ryan throws, the worse his performance. On his first ten attempts of each ball game this year, Matty Ice has a whopping 99.6 passer rating. On the other hand, Ryan is completing just over 50% of his passes on attempts 31-40. What's more, the Falcons are 0-2 in games featuring 300+ yards through the air., 

Whatever the cause, be it partially related to predictability on offense or inability to get Michael Turner going on some days, Ryan has been poor in the second-half for no apparent reason.

So we can at least pin some of that second-half performance on Ryan. But could there be another cause to his decline this season? Well, one giant factor immediately comes to mind: the offensive line, specifically on third down.

Ryan has been sacked 18 times this year, which already is more than he was sacked his entire rookie year. It will easily be a career high in that category. Even though the line has played much better in recent weeks against the likes of Carolina and Detroit, their adjusted sack rate of 7.1% still ranks 21st in the league. And that's not even including the much more numerous times Ryan has been hit after the throw.

Mostly though, the struggles have come on third down. Either a product failed pass protection, predictability or simply poor throws, Ryan's passer rating on third-and-long (in this case 9 or more yards) is a paltry 39.1, including two interceptions. In addition, 11 of Ryan's sacks have come on third down.

So even amidst of all this stastical evidence, have we really reached a verdict on why Ryan has struggled? The way I see it, I can simply attribute part of it to a "down year." But on the whole, I'd have to pin a chunk of blame on the offensive line.

We know how much of an impact those guys up front have. Just look at the Bills: their O-line is ranked as the best pass blocking unit this year, and unsurprisingly Ryan Fitzpatrick has attained some newfound success. As for the Falcons, Sam Baker, Garrett Reynolds, and the normally solid Tyson Clabo have all had rough years, and that has directly correlated to more sacks allowed and more mistakes in the passing game.

Whatever the case may be, the coaching staff would be wise to use this bye week to re-evaluate their offensive strategy. If our much-maligned OC does his part, I'm sure Ryan will begin to turn things around.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.