Matt Ryan looked absolutely fantastic yesterday. He led all NFL players in fantasy scoring, and played just as good as a real-life quarterback. Throwing for three scores, rushing for another, and completing 74% of your passes will garner lots of positive attention. I’d like to breakdown some of Ryan’s play from week 1.
The first play to really look at was the first touchdown of the game when Ryan found Julio Jones in the corner of the end-zone on a goal-line fade. When you watch the play you’ll see that the Chiefs were playing what looked like Cover 1 defense. They put Eric Berry playing a zone in the middle of the field, and the other defensive backs and linebackers played man-to-man on all of the receivers. The Jacquizz stayed in to pass protect, and the Chiefs blitzed the player assigned to him. I don’t know who the number one read was supposed to be on the play, but when Matt Ryan saw Julio lined up one-on-one with a cornerback, there was no reason in the world to not pick Jones. He ran the goal-line fade very well, faked an inside move and avoided the jam, getting the the corner of the end-zone. Ryan threw a perfect pass to Jones and allowed him to reach up and catch the ball, uncontested. Touchdown Falcons.
The second touchdown pass from Ryan to Jones was awesome, but to be honest I think there is a chance that it was a missed penalty against the Falcons. The play was a wide receiver screen to Julio Jones, with Harry Douglas lined up in the slot on that side. Jones stepped back towards the pass after Ryan took the snap, and Harry Douglas headed straight for the corner covering Jones. It was designed to be a rub route, where the corner covering Douglas accidentally runs into his teammate, the defender covering Jones. Unfortunately, Douglas fell right at the feet of the defender and probably should have been called for offensive pass interference. That block is legal if the defensive back is across the line of scrimmage, but if Douglas crossed the line of scrimmage and then blocked the DB, it would be pass interference. It was close, but could have gone against the Falcons. Chalk it up to the new officiating. In the end, it left Julio Jones in space, and he easily ran the 14 yards necessary to add a score. Another touchdown for the Falcons.
Lets look at two non-scoring passes. One was a 31-yard gain to Julio Jones. The first thing to note is that this play was made possible by the Chiefs only rushing three players, and the Falcons blocking them very well. With Jones lined up wide to the left, Ryan had a lot of time to read the defense, step up in the pocket, and then deliver a perfectly lofted pass to Jones well past the linebacker level, and well in front of the safety playing deep. 31 yard gains like that are huge, and you have to feel great completing a pass like that when a defense drops eight men in coverage.
In the second quarter, Matt Ryan faked a pitch left to RB Jacquizz Rodgers, then rolled right and round Roddy White on a comeback route along the right sideline for a 15-yard gain. Roddy did a great job staying in bounds, possessing the football, and dragging both feel in bounds. But I think the best part of this play what that it highlights the timing, rhythm, and confidence that Ryan and White have in each other. It also highlights the fact that an offense that can at least threaten a running attack can effectively play-action pass. The Falcons didn’t run much, but when they did they consistently got three or four yards per rush. It was just enough that the Chiefs had to respect the run, and became susceptible to the play-action pass.
Ryan also completed a touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez and ran for another score. But as good as Ryan was, there were still two plays that he and the Falcons left on the field. The play before Ryan ran for his touchdown, he missed an opportunity to toss another touchdown pass. From the five yard line, Ryan dropped back, and read the field. At the back of the end-zone over the middle, Julio Jones stopped and found himself in the middle of a void where no defender was anywhere near him. Ryan needed to loft it just over the linebacker’s head and allow Jones to go up and get the pass, something he excels at. Unfortunately, Ryan threw it too high, and it sailed over Jones’ head. Luckily, Ryan scored on the next play, so no harm done. But in other games, things might not turn out so good. Ryan has to be able to connect on those types of passes. When you have a guy like Jones, it makes things whole lot easier.
One more was early in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach already. From the Kansas City 12, the Falcons had a 3rd&5 situation, and were knocking on the door of another score. Ryan had a lot of time to throw the pass, and had Roddy White wide open on a crossing route. He may have scored on the play. Unfortunately, Ryan threw the pass just behind White, and he was unable to hang on to the pass. People may credit White with a drop, but I think Ryan would love to have that throw back, and put it on Roddy for what could have been a touchdown rather than a field goal. It didn’t matter today, but down the road throwing for four touchdowns rather than three touchdowns may be the difference between winning and losing. Keeping the pedal to the metal offensively is going to be huge for the Falcons success in 2012.
Obviously the Falcons offense was fantastic from top to bottom. Ryan was particularly good. However, it is clear that there are things that need to be worked on. The Falcons will face a much tougher defensive test in the Denver Broncos. It will be interesting to see if what they work on during the week makes them better for their next game.