Getting More Explosive on Offense: Part 1

There should be no doubt to anyone that the Falcons have to manage somehow to get more explosive on offense. The team ranked last in the league in terms of how many of their pass attempts resulted in 20+ yard completions, even behind the Carolina Panthers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers were among the league leaders in that area on offense, so one certainly sees how it can be beneficial to an offense.

One of the issues the Falcons face however is the fact that quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t known for his arm strength. Ryan isn’t weak-armed, it’s just that in comparison to passers like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, there are just throws that he’s not going to be able to make on a consistent basis. Case in point is the big 58-yard bomb Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on in the Steelers-Ravens matchup that set up the Steelers go-ahead touchdown for the Steelers in the final minutes of that game. Not to say that Ryan is completely incapable of making that throw, it’s just unlikely those types of plays are going to be a big part of the Falcons offensive repertoire with Ryan at the helm.

So the Falcons will likely have to find other ways to create “splash” plays in the passing game without relying on the 40 and 50-yard bombs. More likely, the Falcons should probably focus on getting more vertical plays between 20 and 30 yards, which is right up Ryan’s alley as far as arm strength is concerned.

But this is an area of the field that Ryan rarely seems to exploit. Part of this has to do with play-calling, but another part of this has to do with the fact that at least in the past two seasons Ryan hasn’t done a good job throwing these balls down the field. Looking at his passing splits provided by, as a rookie, Ryan completed 40.6% of his 32 pass attempts of 21-30 yards with 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception, with a yards per attempt of 10.9. The past two years he has put up similar numbers, completing 23.5% of his 51 attempts, with 2 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and a YPA of 5.9 yards.

So I looked at the other top quarterbacks in the league and their numbers over the past three seasons on their 21-30 yard pass attempts: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger, mainly focusing on their YPA and completion percentages. Looking at those guys production, on average they completed about 37.5% of their passes and had a collective YPA of 12.1.

QB Stats (21-30 yards) from 2008-10

1Drew Brees2009223281468.825.4462
2Tom Brady201091731252.918.3530
3Ben Roethlisberger2009173354151.516.3941
4Drew Brees2010153451144.115.0361
5Aaron Rodgers2010164159539.014.5141
6Tom Brady2009103041733.313.9052
7Drew Brees2008133344939.413.6131
8Aaron Rodgers2009123646933.313.0351
9Philip Rivers2010143644538.912.3641
10Philip Rivers2008123135838.711.5551
11Aaron Rodgers2008123338036.411.5240
12Matt Ryan2008133234940.610.9141
13Peyton Manning2009133635436.19.8351
14Philip Rivers2009133635036.19.7241
15Peyton Manning2008144038535.09.6321
16Ben Roethlisberger200862119928.69.4821
17Peyton Manning2010155345128.38.5174
18Ben Roethlisberger201072721025.97.7800
19Matt Ryan200962415625.06.5004
20Matt Ryan201062714322.25.3021

Three players clearly emerge from the rest of the pack as the best of this bunch: Brees, Brady, and Rodgers. Brees 2009 campaign was monstrous, where he completed 68.8% of his passes and had a YPA of 25.4. But looking at the numbers, there seems to be a strong correlation between completion percentage and yards per attempt. If you sort by either, the rankings change little.

So it’s clear that one of the areas that has been missing from Ryan’s game to put him on par with the other elite passers in the league is his ability to throw the football downfield. The Falcons need to find a way to get his production back to where it was in 2008.

A big part of that will be play-calling, as Mike Mularkey needs to find more ways to try and exploit the opposing defenses in that area. Another way is by the Falcons improving the weapons they have around Ryan.

Click here to read more about how the Falcons can get better weapons in Part 2.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
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