Falcons’ 2021 season in review: Quarterbacks

Jan. 9, 2022 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Atlanta. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Jan. 9, 2022 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sunday, January 9, 2022, in Atlanta. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Editor’s note: This is the second of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ 2021 season under first-year coach Arthur Smith.

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan played with his weakest supporting cast perhaps over his career.

How the Falcons won seven games is one of the great mysteries of the 2021 season.

With a weak crew, Ryan had his worst season since early in his career.

“He’s been great in every regard,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said about working with Ryan. “Most professional player that I’ve ever been around. He’s never cheated a snap in practice or in a game. He gives you everything that he’s got. He’s a great role model in terms of the younger players to see. One of the first guys out to practice. Takes his craft very serious. I’ve got the utmost respect for him.”

Ryan completed 375 of 560 attempts (67%) for 3,968 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He had a passer rating of 90.4, which was his lowest since a 91 in 2010.

He also threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017. The only season when he threw fewer than 20 was his rookie season in 2008.

Ryan’s 6.16 net yards gained per pass attempt was the second lowest of his career. His 6.01 in his second season was the lowest.

Ryan’s protection was shaky, and he was without his top receiver, Calvin Ridley, for most of the season.

He was sacked 40 times for the fourth consecutive season. He was hurried 48 times and hit an NFL-high 84 times. The numbers were atrocious, as Ryan had 2.4 seconds average time in the pocket between the snap and throwing the ball or when pressure collapsed the pocket.

“I do think that there are positives to take from (going 7-2 in one-score games),” Ryan said. “In close, one-score games we were very efficient. We need to put ourselves in more of those than we did this year. I think that’s the next step.

“I also think learning how to close some of those games out earlier and figuring out ways to win, where it doesn’t have to be one possession. I think those are places we can make growth.”

The Falcons were able to scheme around their pass-blocking deficiencies through 10 games. They gave up 16 over the first 10 games before giving up 24 over the final seven games.

“I think anytime that you get into the sack numbers, I’ve been a part of this for (a lot) of different teams, and there are a lot of ways to look at it,” Ragone said. “Rarely, is it just one issue? It could be, on any given play, everything from the timing between the receivers and quarterbacks, the tight ends and quarterbacks, or an issue in communication or just bad on the coach’s design at times. There’s nothing open.”

The Falcons rarely could use five- or seven-step drops to throw longer passes down the field. When teams adjusted as started to sit on the shorter routes, the passing attack was stymied.

“With Matt, 14 years in, going into another year, there is not much that he hasn’t seen,” Ragone said. “He’s done it different ways. So, when it comes to installing a certain scheme or concept, typically, he’s probably done it.”

Ryan had the longest 300-yard passing game drought of his career. He did not have 300 yards passing game over the final nine games.

The passing-game structure, breakdowns and sacks will be evaluated by the coaching staff.

“When you go back at the end of year, and you go through it and you evaluate each one of the instances, not just in sacks, but when plays don’t work or are not successful,” Ragone said. “You obviously take a hard evaluation.”

The personnel will be scrutinized.

“You look at it and see where you can get better, where you can hopefully make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Ragone said. “Always chasing perfection. We obviously know that is not always attainable. But our whole point is to make sure that we go through that whole process and see exactly, in our minds, where we can get better. Then obviously moving forward, what we need to do in practice as well as how we implement that in games.”

Josh Rosen opened the season as the backup quarterback after A.J. McCarron was injured in the exhibition season. Feleipe Franks finished the season as the backup.

Rosen played in four games and completed 2 of 11 passes for 19 yards.

Franks, an undrafted player from Florida, played in nine games and ran some read-pass options plays. He had three carries for six yards.

082921 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Feleipe Franks looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half in a NFL preseason football game on Sunday, August 29, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Atlanta Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide Receivers/Tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

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