Matt Ryan is on the verge of making himself a lot of money. He showed significant improvement last year, as statistically he ranked highly in a number of advanced metrics.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the pressure on him is only likely to increase, particularly from the fan base.
But I honestly don’t expect Ryan to put together a better season than he did in 2012. Looking at advanced metrics such as expected points added (EPA) by Advanced NFL Stats, the Falcons three receivers graded very highly last season. Roddy White’s EPA of 71.2 was the fourth highest in the league during the regular season behind only Calvin Johnson (107.3), Demaryius Thomas (85.9), and Andre Johnson (83.4). Julio Jones ranked 8th with a EPA of 64.2 last year, and Tony Gonzalez was the top-ranked tight end with an EPA of 59.7. Among all receivers (tight ends included), that would have ranked 12th, ahead of receivers like Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, and Brandon Marshall.
That’s a rare combination. There were three other teams that have three receivers ranked in the Top 32: the Patriots, Cowboys, and Broncos. But when you average their ranking, the Falcons finished with an average rank of 8th for their Big Three, while the Broncos (13.7), Patriots (18.7), and Cowboys (22.0) were well behind the Falcons.
The point is to suggest that 2012 likely represents a statistical peak for the Falcons top wideouts and quarterback. A repeat performance in 2013 would be welcomed, but not likely. The last time I think a team had that caliber of performance was in 2008 with the Arizona Cardinals, as Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Anquan Boldin all ranked in the Top 13 that year in terms of EPA. The following season, all three ranked between spots 35th and 41st among wide receivers. In 2008, Kurt Warner’s EPA was 6th highest in the league but slipped to 14th the following year.
Thus why it’s probably a shame the Falcons didn’t take advantage of that production and ride it all the way to the Super Bowl. They got close, but it’s likely there will be a step back in 2013 for the passing attack.
And if the Falcons expect to have a repeat of the 2012 season and make a deep run in the playoffs, they are probably going to be much more reliant on the other aspects of the team to step up. But outside the secondary, the Falcons really got minimal production from the rest of their roster last year. Their running game was among the worst in the league. They couldn’t sack the quarterback and they couldn’t stop the run, putting them near the bottom of the league in those areas as well. Their offensive line was average at best for the majority of the season.
Ryan and the receivers essentially carried the team last year. And I hope many fans won’t get down on him or them if that doesn’t happen again this year or in future years. But the focus and scrutiny often falls on the quarterback, especially if he makes over $100 million.
I just hope for Ryan’s sake, that after he gets his new contract he won’t be held to an impossible standard by all parties.