I’ve always assumed the Falcons have never invested much in a backup to Matt Ryan because they figured if he ever suffers a serious injury they are screwed, anyway. In some ways that's just the reality for all NFL teams in the salary-cap era--there's not enough quality starters to go around, much less capable backups.
But can’t the Falcons at least sign or develop a QB behind Ryan who gives them a chance to win if he goes down for a game or two?
That’s what the Falcons thought they were getting when GM Thomas Dimitroff traded for T.J. Yates in the summer of 2014. Yates had won a playoff game for the Texans as a rookie in 2011 (making him even with Ryan in playoff Ws). But the Texans were willing to let a quarterback go for a backup/special teamer, which tells you how much they valued Yates.
Now we see why. Yates has not looked good at all in two exhibition games this summer. He didn’t look so hot during the 2014 preseason, either, save for a sharp outing vs. the Jags. In fact, I’d venture to say that no team in the league would be as in much trouble as the Falcons if their starting quarterback goes down.
That’s just my subjective view but it turns out there’s some empirical evidence to support it. The nerds at PredictionMachine.com wanted to examine what would happen to all 32 NFL teams if they were forced to play all 16 games with their backup quarterback. They crunched the numbers with 50,000 simulations of the regular season and playoffs in their Predictalator computer.
Their verdict: The Falcons would suffer more than any team if forced to play their No. 2 QB all year. According to the Predictalator, the Falcons’ chances of making the playoffs would decrease 85.3 percent if they were forced to play Yates instead of Ryan all season. That’s the biggest drop among all 32 teams—and those numbers were crunched before Yates stunk it up again last night.
Thing is, I don’t know if there has ever been a time when the Falcons wouldn’t rank low on that list since Ryan became QB1 in 2008. Here is the list of No. 2 quarterbacks behind Ryan: Chris Redman, Luke McCown, Dominique Davis, and Yates.
Redman was a third-round pick for the Ravens in 2000 but was injured and ineffective for much of his career (though he did beat the Bucs after replacing Ryan during a 2009 game). McCown was seasoned but not accomplished when the Falcons signed him to replace Redman in 2012. The Falcons finally gave up on developing Davis and dumped him in favor of Yates.
Barring a move before the season, the Falcons are stuck with either Yates or Sean Renfree as QB2 this season. Renfree, a seventh-round pick in 2013, is the only quarterback they’ve drafted since they took Ryan. I thought Renfree was good at Duke and he’s had some solid preseason games but he’s still never played in a real NFL game.
None of this will matter if Ryan, as usual, stays healthy. He hasn’t missed a game since the 2009 season and his streak of 87 starts in a row is the fifth-longest among active quarterbacks. Ryan has taken a beating the past two seasons and he keeps going.
But if Ryan’s injury luck runs out this season, the Falcons are in deep trouble.