NFL Analysis: Will Matt Ryan Get Any Help In Atlanta?

The story of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2012 season is Exhibit A as to why constantly evaluating quarterbacks by their W-L record, at the expense of the team concept, is just stupidity. The Falcons are not a team that should have gotten to within a couple plays of the Super Bowl. But through the excellence of quarterback Matt Ryan, they nearly made it.

It’s not that Ryan didn’t have help. The passing game has playmakers, with Julio Jones and Roddy White both producing well over 1,000 yards apiece. Tony Gonzalez caught 93 passes from his tight end spot, and the 37-year-old was persuaded to postpone his retirement plans to come back for a shot at the brass ring. The Falcon front office has done a good job of giving Ryan targets to play catch with, but they haven’t done much for him beyond that.

Atlanta’s running game was awful, as Michael Turner finally went past his expiration date in the backfield. The team brought in Stephen Jackson, who rushed for over a 1,000 yards with the St. Louis Rams to try and improve. I’m sure there will be at least a little bit of improvement, but generally, offensive lineman that are as accustomed to backpedaling as often as Atlanta’s front five does in pass protection have a harder time firing out on run blocks.

The Falcon defense was bad, but most any measurement. They were mediocre in allowing completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks. This can be tolerated if the defense is good at closing off yards after the catch, but Atlanta ranks even lower in yards-per-pass. There’s no pass rush, as defensive end John Abraham hit his own past-due date at the same time Turner did. Nor is Atlanta any better at defending the run.

Like the offense, the organization did go out and look for veteran help to try and change the dynamic. They brought in Osi Umenyiora from the Giants. But Umenyiora had a rather pedestrian six sacks last year and he’s 31-years-old. I have no problem with the Falcons giving him a shot, and it’s better than the options they had, but we need to be realistic about what the expectations are.

When you look at the Atlanta Falcons in context it’s impossible to conclude anything but that Matt Ryan is the reason they’re even in the playoff picture, rather than the reason they aren’t advancing to the Super Bowl.

I suppose one can always fall back on the Skip Bayless routine of “the job of the quarterback is to win games” and refuse to broach any alternative explanation. That works for one whose brain can’t handle more than one concept at a time, but I’m not buying it. The question now is whether the Falcons have improved enough to take that next step.

Las Vegas is not optimistic, at least both on the team’s Over/Under win prop. Atlanta is posted at 9.5, not bad, but not Super Bowl-caliber. I think this number looks good, reflecting the flaws of the team overall, while acknowledging Ryan’s ability to make them look better than they really are.

I hate to do this, because I hate for this site’s NFL analysis to ever defer to the Cult of the Quarterback in any circumstance, but I’m picking Atlanta to go Over, based on Ryan. I can’t see this team coming any worse than 9-7, so that’s a pretty tight fit on the Under side. They have the look of a 10-6 team, maybe 11-5 if things break right, thanks to Ryan. And we have to respect the fact they won 13 games a year ago, so it seems to me that the Over is the percentage move. 

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