Falcons have a problem, and surprisingly it’s their quarterback

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan appears to be bowing his head in shame as he heads to the locker room after a 20-10 loss to Minnesota at the Georgia Dome Sunday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

I went to a Falcons’ game and spent most of my time writing Georgia columns, the last of which you can find by clicking here.

But I saw enough. I’ve seen it before.

Nobody should be surprised that the Falcons are having some problems. We knew there were recent draft mistakes and personnel deficiencies that can’t be fixed in one offseason in a partly new regime. However, this was a combination few saw coming: The defense is much better and Matt Ryan is much worse.

The Falcons lost another game Sunday. They lost again because of Ryan, who in theory is their best player but lately hasn’t been remotely close to that.

Yes, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings’ 20-10 win at the Georgia Dome. But if the Falcons didn’t have three turnovers on the Minnesota side of the field, and if Ryan didn’t throw two interceptions, including one in the end zone, they likely come away with points in all of those situations and the game plays out differently. Minnesota would’ve been forced to put more of its offense in the hands of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and that’s not something the Vikings want to do.

The Ryan situation began as only a slight concern early because the team was having so much success, starting 5-0 and 6-1. But it’s now a major concern, not just among the fanbase but within the organization. Unless everybody is lying, Ryan is not injured and he is not confused by the team’s new offense under Kyle Shanahan. This is merely the result of him making bad throws and bad decisions.

Photos: Falcons host Vikings at Georgia Dome

Ryan’s two interceptions Sunday give him 12 for the season, including five in the last two games and eight in the last five. The Falcons (6-5) have lost four straight and fallen five games behind undefeated Carolina (11-0). They’re only two games ahead of last place New Orleans (4-7) in the NFC South.

Back to Ryan. Late in the second quarter, with the Falcons trailing 7-4, they had the ball second-and-three at the Minnesota 43-yard line when Ryan tried to hit slot receiver Nick Williams at the 27. But he threw late and short, and veteran Captain Munnerlyn read Williams’ route, the quarterback’s eyes and made the interception.

Munnerlyn: “I knew if I was getting leverage on the outside, they run inside routes. If I’m inside, they run outside routes. I just kind of anticipated the routes since I had outside leverage and I read (Ryan’s) eyes and I read the play.”

Munnerlyn said after studying tape of the Falcons during the week, “There’s different tendencies that I read with this team.  I just felt like (Williams) was going inside and I jumped the route.”

The Falcons drove on their opening possession of the second half to the Vikings’ 1. A Tevin Coleman touchdown run was nullified by a clipping penalty. Later, on third and goal from the 14, Ryan tried to force a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme in the end zone. But in scrambling left to elude the pass rush and threw back across his body, which is never a good idea, got little zip on the ball and the pass was intercepted by Terence Newman.

Newman: “I tried to bait him (Ryan) a little bit. I knew I only had the tight end back there so I let him get a step on me, knowing I could come back. And when I saw Ryan go left, I knew he had to throw across his body. Then I undercut him. It worked out.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff publicly maintain confidence in Ryan. They have no choice. He’s less than two years into a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension that runs through 2018. It’s not like the team is in a position to cut him. But there is concern about Ryan making mistakes he should not be making in the eighth season of his career. They are mistakes that are losing games.

The Falcons’ defense has significantly improved under Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith. The defense is not losing games for this team, which wasn’t the case in the past. But it’s not like the Falcons are the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens — they can’t win games on their defense alone. It’s still up to Ryan and the offense to win games, and that’s not happening.

“It starts with me,” Ryan said. “I’ve got to be better, in terms of decision-making and knowing when to just throw the ball away, cut our losses and kick a field goal. … I know I can play better. I’ve done it before and I will do it again, but it’s gotta start this week.”

The problem: He has had similar comments after the previous three losses.

At this point, assume nothing.

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Reader Comments 0

46 comments
TrueFalconFan
TrueFalconFan

YOU noted your biggest "problem" of the first statement of this article! 

Are you writing about the FALCONS or the Dwags??? 

REAL FALCONS FANS careless about what's happening  with UGA!!!!


Go Falcons

BravesFan79
BravesFan79

The biggest 2 at fault are Shannahan's offense, and out GM dumettrioff. Of whom I had the highest respect for until he sxrewed over Tony Gonzalez! What kind of Idiot GM doesn't believe in mid season trades?? Nope the falcons can't use any help at center or other places... Surely some pro bowl player on a team like the Browns wouldnt help at all....nope.

THEBITTERTRUTH
THEBITTERTRUTH

Matty slush has been exposed since Tony G retired. It is just that simple. 

he_of_stinky_wind
he_of_stinky_wind

Why is Ryan being asked to 'roll out' and throw?  He is a proven pocket passer.  The scheme doesn't fit Ryan's strengths.


Routes are being 'jumped' by defenders because there is 1 receiver name Julio, that has to be covered.  He gets doubled almost every play. The rest are not fast enough to scare a team deep, so the defenders crowd the line.


In the Red zone, teams know we can't run the ball in short yardage situations, so they play the pass which compresses the field even more.


fix99999
fix99999

Arthur needs to hire a sports psychologist on the qt.

Matt's problems are between his ears.

many teams use them.

just another 'club in your bag';

many ways to skin a cat......

Wilbo
Wilbo

Hey, Schultz, you useless jerkovitz poohbutt, this is the most honest column I've ever scene you write! That ain't saying much, but at least it's something....

TideDawg
TideDawg

Peyton Manning went to the Broncos as a future Hall of Fame player. They tried to change him to the style of offense that Kubiak wanted instead of adapting the offense to his talent. It wasn't working early in the season and Manning was not performing very well. He was not an "Under center" QB. He let them know and they changed. Results: They went 8-0 until Manning got hurt. Could be what's wrong with Ryan. They tried to change him to their system. Result: It hasn't worked.....................In regard to Tech's(I should say PJ's) offense: I'll concede that it gains a lot of yards and eats up the clock. That's either a plus or minus depending on whether you're behind or ahead in the game. Here's what I consider negative about PJ's offense: He runs the QB which makes him highly susceptible to injury. If they ever get a high quality QB, PJ will get him killed running him. It's a fumble prone offense that requires excellent ball handling by 3 people, no margin for error. It's not a catch up offense and facing teams that strike quickly....they're usually behind. Every year PJ has new players coming in and they have to learn a very intricate system, some do, some don't. Even the 5 star recruits come in and they are accustomed to a QB handing them the ball and they already know how to handle that. Last year Tech had an exceptional season. How often will the get that kind of talent?

saviorfaire
saviorfaire

Now - you are just figuring out that there is a problem with Matt Ryan? This is a QB that can't escape from a pass rush, he can't throw deep, he doesn't throw the ball down field with any consistency, and he can't throw on the run. He can throw the ball 5 yards to open receivers and hope that they run for yardage. And, the Falcons thought that skill set was valuable enough to make him the 2nd highest paid player in the league? Any backup QB in the league can complete 5 yard passes - it's the mastery of the other skills that should compel the paying of the top salary in the league and they are sorely missing. The Falcons could improve by changing QB, but they won't. The Eagles, Jets, 49ers, Texans, Redskins, Browns, and Bills changed QBs when the incumbent wasn't getting the job done. The Falcons have always been slow to react to bad performance even in the midst of a game.  

DawgNole
DawgNole

@saviorfaire

Not saying the Falcons shouldn't change QBs, but the teams you cited--Eagles, Jets, 49ers, Texans, Redskins, Browns, and Bills--are far from examples of organizations that have achieved success this decade by doing so.

Firekyleshanahan
Firekyleshanahan

Falcons passed on Gurley. He may not have worked in this lame duck system. Name one player or team that was succesful and playoff bound under Kyle Shanahan?

Firekyleshanahan
Firekyleshanahan

The success of Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Cleveland. How did his system work out in those places? What were the Falcons thinking? Killing the only thing they had going for them a no huddle offense to this momentum killing thud of a system. May or may not win another game.

ObamaOsamaYoMama
ObamaOsamaYoMama

I heard King Arthur has been so upset with the losses, that he has dumped 3 of his 30 year old girlfriends and plans to cut his sideline posse down to just 10 people. Poor King Arthur.

Kennyd_va
Kennyd_va

Jeff.......There haven't been to many things I have agree with you ..... However I agree with you 100%. It's not Shanahan hurting the Falcons..    It's Matt Ryan and he cannot make that play and he give the same line after every interview, I need to get better. Damn you need to get better every game and seem like Matt Ryan is getting worst.   Matt been in the NFL since 2008 and he been playing like a Rookie.   Also our pass defense is the worst

E983
E983

Arm strength can be a problem. He took a couple of sacks several games back that could have a lingering effect the rest of the season. Throws don't have the zip they had earlier this season. Hard to watch him having this difficult season. More will be revealed.

atlson
atlson

I attended the Atlanta Falcons vs. Minnesota Vikings game on yesterday hoping the birds could stop the bleeding and right the ship. Well, I left the game more pessimistic than ever about Matt Ryan being the team's quarterback going forward. I truly believe Ryan has tapped out as quarterback and the Falcons' organization should consider drafting a franchise quarterback in the 2016 NFL draft.

TrueFan1
TrueFan1

weak arm ryan, oops bad hire!!  see mark ritche for details

Manic14
Manic14

You guys have a lot of faith in Matt Ryan. The problem is simple: Ryan has thrown the ball deep MAYBE 10 times this season. Therefore, unlike even the most mediocre NFL QB, defensive backs don't fear our weapons, even though we run the ball effectively, because Ryan doesn't stretch the defense. This is why every short pass is contested so aggressively. Matt Ryan can't be fixed. He can only hope to be AS good as Chad Pennington was.


AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Why keep picking them JS?  I have begged you to not do so! DON'T pick them anymore. Not blaming you but your crappy picks over and over again is not helping. 

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

The #1 and #2 picks in this year's NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, are each averaging 7.6 yards per attempt this season, a mark higher than Matt Ryan's season mark (7.4) or career mark (7.2). 


Their coordinators? Jameis Winston has Dirk Koetter, and Marcus Mariota has Mike Mularkey. 


Maybe it's time to stop blaming the coaches.

PhilUnderwood
PhilUnderwood

It's mental.  For some reason, and this happens, he is checked out and not competing. You always hear about people that are VERY good at something leaning on their laurels instead of pursuing excellence. This is Matt Ryan.

Gtchoke
Gtchoke

Ryans bad throws and int's started last year in case no one noticed. He's lost it and at this age, it's hard to get it back. With a weak arm, it's even harder. Int's happen but his are sometimes so dumb. What I am shocked is no one asks why he's always throwing to this tight end. That's two weeks in a row passes to him where he was not even close to being open. The pick 6 last week was awful. Tamme was falling to the ground covering by another player and the pass wasn't even close and another player intercepted it. Might as well trade julio at this point since they don't have a qb who can get him the ball. This is suppose to be the prime years for a qb like ryan. He looks like a 3rd stringer making mistakes in a preseason game. Here's a solution! Bench him when he gets to the opponents 20. Of course that's been a rare occasion too

ATLFan
ATLFan

I got to the Dome early yesterday specifically to watch Matt Ryan in warm ups. My seats are 8 rows off the field at the 30 on the side of the field where the Falcons warm up so I had a great view. In warm ups he looked absolutely sharp on all passes, though I noticed he relies more on strong mechanics and follow through than passers with stronger arms such has Renfree. And I think that's the root of the problem. In the new offensive scheme Matt Ryan is on the move much more than normal and that's not how he makes his best throws.Couple that with a scheme that targets certain receivers (leading to forced throws) and limits the no huddle (Ryan's strongest point) and I now understand why he is struggling. I'm told Shanahan is a football genius so I assume he's figured all this out already and will make adjustments to his offense according to the abilities off his players instead of dogmatically sticking with his system. That will ultimately decide the success (or lack of it) of the Falcons under this new staff. 

Eddie Makk
Eddie Makk

Now people are attempting to blame Shanahan-although I agree he is overrated- by saying Ryan put up numbers under previous offensive coordinators. The numbers don't lie, Ryan has been consistent at turning the ball over his entire career. In 121 regular season games, Ryan has thrown 103 interceptions, fumbled the ball 10 times while rushing and lost 20 fumbles when dropping back to pass. 133 giveaways in 121 games. It's never a matter of if Ryan is going to turn the ball over, it's when, how and how many. I will admit I was never on the Ryan bandwagon. I'm bias in saying he has to go while Julio's window to be great in this league is open. We don't even get the pleasure of seeing Julio making receptions deep down the field because of Ryan's arm strength and we play in a dome! That fact alone should have been all the reason to pick Flacco. Can you imagine that cannon in a dome 8 times a season? 

Chop_Chop
Chop_Chop

Unfortunately, Dan Quinn has been saying the same thing after all of these games. Ryan screwed up again. Tevin Coleman had another fumble that ruined a strong game. You've got Terron Ward taking an unsportsmanlike penalty to kill a potential TD drive. The Falcons do too many things wrong on both sides of the ball. They aren't any good and haven't been all season. They were lucky early and the luck ran out.

McGarret
McGarret

No, he does not "appear" to be at 100%. It's like he's holding something back. He is either not giving his all or for some reason is not able to do so.

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

For what it's worth, Shanahan has had success as an OC with much less hyped QBs than Ryan. It's not like the guy has been a failure elsewhere in his career. 

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

@Addy So far in his career, he has worked with the murderer's row of Matt Schaub, RG3, Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Brian Hoyer, and Johnny Manziel. Only one above average talent in that bunch. Important to take that into account.


And in any case, the same fans whining about Shanahan now were whining about Mularkey and celebrating the Koetter hire, then whined about Koetter and celebrated the Shanahan hire. Do the Falcons have to cycle through all 32 OCs in the league before pointing the finger at Ryan is acceptable?

python's monty
python's monty

@NajehDavenpoop @Addy We did not whine about Mularkey in the first season and did not whine about Koetter at all.  We continue to whine about TD, though....

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

If the problem is that a full offseason and 11 regular season games are not enough for Ryan to master Kyle Shanahan's offense, as many commenters seem to think, that pretty severely contradicts the whole "cerebral smart QB who understands the whole game" narrative that has followed him his whole career. 


There is a quarterback about a ten hour drive up I-85, who is five years younger than Ryan, who put up more yards per attempt in his rookie year three years ago in Kyle Shanahan's offense than Ryan has in any season in his career, whose team is certainly going to part ways with him after this season and will probably be available at a significant discount. Smart investors buy low. Just saying.

Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

@NajehDavenpoop Yeah, one whose confidence has been more deeply wrecked than Ryan's, not to mention his knee.  He also seems to have narcissistic issues that undermine his relationships with his teammates. Getting rid of Shanahan seems like the more obvious move at this point. 

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

@PeachtreeBart Would you bet on 30 year old Ryan regaining his confidence or 25 year old RG3 with a change of scenery? I'd almost always bet on the younger guy.

mxpxboy
mxpxboy

There's nothing wrong with Ryan. It's illogical to even speak it. Considering he's never had the same OC very long and had, up until this season, been the model of consistency, I think he's earned the benefit of the doubt. I think the blame lies with Shanahan. I just don't think his philosophy of "Just keep feeling Julio" is working out. Every team knows it's coming. Who in their right mind would ignore their other Pro bowl receiver ?! If Ryan is the problem, it's Kyle Shanahans fault.

moboman
moboman

@mxpxboy Yeah, model of consistent mediocrity.  Certainly not a 100 million QB.

DixieRoss
DixieRoss

How the heck can you judge a quarterback with a line that gives him no time?  To me, this is all about the line and the lack of ability to block anyone for any length of time.  Backs aren't picking up blitzes, but it doesn't help when you run a 4th down play with no back to try pick anyone up.  You know that line can't block, so why the heck would you call something like that?


Something is definitely not right, that is for sure.  I'm not willing to throw Matt under the bus just yet.  He's done too much to deserve that, especially given the current circumstances.  

SouthGeorgiaStrong
SouthGeorgiaStrong

Nothing Surprising about Ryan he has no arm and de does not make the right decision seems like he gets this mental blockage.. He acts like a washed up QB trade him for Stattford and a draft pick. he can get the ball to Julio

khd713
khd713

This is all about the offensive coordinator and his bogus scheme. Ryan is not comfortable and is not seeing the field. He is not processing where his receivers are, and where the defenders are in relation, and he is making horrible decisions as a consequence. For NFL quarterbacks, the difference between the Hall of Fame and crapping out is such a fine line, and the ones who succeed are the ones who aren't afraid to hang in the pocket until the last possible instant, can shake off the first guy through the line almost every time, and can force the ball into receivers' hands in even the tightest of coverage. If you are off by even the tiniest fractional amount in any part of the passing sequence, you are going to throw a lot of interceptions and look like an idiot doing it. It's about having complete and absolute confidence, and right now Ryan has none. The Ryan haters have been joyfully throwing out their "See I told you so's" (see comment below), as if what we are seeing now has been going on for eight years. Yeah, sure. They don't know what they are talking about, and they don't understand nearly as much about football as they think they do, especially as it pertains to playing the quarterback position. The situation with Ryan was caused and created by Shanahan, plain and simple. My prediction is that we have almost reached the end of the Shanahan experiment in Atlanta, and what a failure it has been. Not many coaches could take the offensive talent on this team and turn it into the dysfunctional mess that we are seeing now, but Shanahan somehow managed to do it. Won't be long before he is on a plane to somewhere else.

Deetug
Deetug

No, you didnt see it coming but I did. I said he was overrated years ago due to the caliber of teams they were playing but, I was just hating.

tmc
tmc

Matt Ryan was god awful today. I was at the game and it was crystal clear that Matt's play was bad... but his decision making was 10 times worse! That interception in the endzone was the worst decision and throw i've seen in Matt's career... and there has been a few. He was rolling left and throws behind a wr with the db outside the wr and standing there waiting for matt to throw the ball. We were all screaming "don't throw it!" the entire time he was rolling left on that play. The minute he let go of the ball it was intercepted. I guarantee that db was laughing when he caught that ball.

I don't know what' wrong with Matt. Seeing him in person today, i saw a 3/4 throwing motion that i do not remember Matt Ryan using in years past. His arm strength is down significantly and his decisions are getting worse by the game.

He's either injured and not revealing it.. or he is regressing at an alarming rate. As a Falcons fan, it makes me wonder if the team needs to explore additional quarterback's in next year's draft/free agency because these trends are not good at all!

moboman
moboman

Ryan has gotten the same protection as his opposing QB's last 5 games.  A good QB makes something good happen when the pocket starts to break down.  Step away from pressure and find secondary receivers.  Not throw picks after staring down receivers. 

Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

The notion of cutting Ryan in seasons past would have sounded akin to the idea of cutting Tom Glavine in his prime or Al Horford now.  What a precipitous fall in these past 6 games.  He'll likely come back around, probably by next season. Maybe John Smoltz can give Ryan the number of that sports psychologist who worked out so well for him in the early 90's.

Chilidawg
Chilidawg

I see two possibilities that could be contributing to Ryan's passing problems.  The offensive line (pun intended ) does not provide  reliable protection for Ryan. As a result he is rushing his throws.  A less obvious cause could be the pass routes included in the team's new offense. Ryan frequently is throwing into very congested areas and into double coverage. This combination of subpar pass protection and route design that focuses on the congested parts of the field could explain why Ryan is throwing more INTs.

Gtchoke
Gtchoke

@Chilidawg Obviosuly when it takes 1-2seconds for a teams d to get to him, that's not on him. But that happened once or twice yesterday. The obvious as the end of the game. What I see is receivers being covered. It's funny to watch other nfl games and see ben r or brady or the denver backup or even teddy find receivers wide open or make a great pass. You haven't seen that from ryan the past 2 years. He lost the zip on the ball and he's making bad decisions. And at this age of his career, it won't get better. Poor blank trying to sell these psl's for his new stadium and the team is imploding. LOL

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

Matt Ryan has to be injured but either way its time for Sean Renfree to get a start