Matt Ryan took significant strides in 2010 as a passer. He emerged from what was by and large an average to above average starting quarterback in 2009 to be one of the top guys in the league.
But it also seems clear that there is still a gap between Ryan and many of the so-called elite quarterbacks in the league such as Aaron Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Rivers, Big Ben, and Brees. A big reason is youth and inexperience. Another is that Ryan has yet to prove himself in the playoffs with two less than stellar performances.
Can he close the gap in 2011? And what will it take for that to happen?
First, it’s a good thing to compare Ryan’s 2009 and 2010 seasons. I’m going to use Moneyball measures because I think it’s a simple way to illustrate his progress in several areas, namely decision making. I’ll look at his totals in five categories: big plays (gains of 20 and 40 yards), touchdowns, poor throws, interceptions, and sacks allowed, comparing them to his number of attempts.
|Year||Att.||20+ yd||40+ yd||TD||PT||INT||Skd|
Basically, he cut his interceptions and sacks taken in half, and threw roughly 25% less poor throws. His touchdowns and big plays of 40 or more yards stayed roughly the same. But the only area where there was significant drop-off was in terms of his big plays of 20 or more yards. There was a comparable rate of reduction there as his rate of improvement as far as poor throws go.
Perhaps you can then summarize that Ryan was smarter, but by playing things a little safer. So for Ryan to make the jump, will probably require him balancing the risk of throws down the field with good decisions.
This isn’t breaking new ground. This exact topic was discussed back in February here, and was one of the primary reasons why the Falcons packaged so many picks to get Julio Jones in the draft. They’ve now provided Ryan with the tools for his own success.
But how much will Jones help Ryan in 2011 at least? Without regular schedule of OTAs and rookie mini-camps, Jones along with the rest of the 2011 draft class is going to be behind the eight ball as far as their preparation goes. It certainly is positive that Ryan and Jones got a lot of work together at Camp Exile over the past several weeks, but it’s not going to replace the steady regimen that they could have gotten if the Falcons coaching staff was involved sans the lockout.
Another measure of Ryan’s progress is going to be his performance on the road. His record at home is impeccable. Only Tom Brady can look upon it with disdain. But he needs to start closing the gap with his performance on the road. Having better weapons around him won’t hurt him, but the majority of that is on Ryan himself. He needs to show better toughness away from the Dome and be ready to meet those challenges head on. The good thing is that he showed improvement from 2009 to 2010 in that realm as well.
If Ryan continues to get better in those areas, and show comparable progress from 2010 to 2011 as he did from the previous year, he and the Falcons are going to be a force to reckon with. But what exactly that progress will be we are unsure yet. We’re just not sure how the lockout is going to play out on this season. It should have less of a negative impact on passers like Ryan and the previously mentioned quarterbacks than others in the league. Maybe it will have no impact, or maybe it will have a positive impact for the better passers.
Who knows, but one thing is for certain, Matt Ryan is an ascending quarterback in this league and it’s definitely going to be exciting in 2011 and the seasons beyond to watch him grow into an elite quarterback.