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 ESPN.com, 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
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.