The same Falcons’ offense that produced 124 points in the first four games (average: 31) produced 136 points in the next eight (average: 17). So we can talk about the defense’s anemic pass rush and last week’s inability, if not seeming ambivalence, when it came to tackling Jameis Winston, but most of the Falcons’ unravellings come when they have the ball.
They go as their offense goes. It’s where their stars are, where nearly two-thirds of their payroll goes, where seemingly three-thirds of the lampoons are launched in social media when they lose.
So choose: Matt Ryan or Kyle Shanahan? You can only side with one. (Sarcasm.)
“It’s not that simple,” Ryan told me this week. “Things are never that black and white. There might be 10 different reasons why we didn’t score in the red zone. Most people are going to say one of two things: Either Matt didn’t do it or Kyle didn’t call it. But it comes down to more than that.”
Ryan knows he is not playing great. He is barely playing average.
There is no dramatic difference in his completion percentage or yards-per-game average this season, but his touchdown-to-interception differential through 12 games (17-13) is significantly worse than his career average entering the season (26-13). It’s not just a recent phenomenon. He wasn’t functioning much better when the Falcons were 5-0 (6 TDs, 4 ints.) than he has in the seven games since (11 TDs, 9 ints.).
So choose: Ryan is overrated and overwhelmed and the Falcons need to trade him yesterday? Or Shanahan is predictable and inflexible and was coddled by his maniacal father? (I may have lapsed into Twitter instant psychoanalysis there.)
Here are the only two realities here: 1) Both are struggling; 2) Neither is going anywhere.
Ryan and Shanahan need to figure out the problems and figure out each other. Both acknowledge they are still adjusting to the other party, whether its scheme (Ryan to Shanahan) or skill set (Shanahan to Ryan). This isn’t unusual. But understand something: The Falcons are married to Ryan for the foreseeable future, particularly economically. Also, first-year coach Dan Quinn brought Shanahan here and he isn’t about to pull the plug on his offensive coordinator after one season — whether the Falcons make the playoffs or not.
Quinn is the single most important and powerful individual in the organization right now, below only owner Arthur Blank. This is what he said: “I see how hard the two guys are working at it and I know both guys are total competitors. I know both are pissed that they’re not performing better. But they support the heck out of each other. So that’s not dividing to me.”
Regarding the Ryan vs. Shanahan public debate, Quinn added, “I totally get it. But the team does not feel that way. The team backs these guys. They know what Matt’s about and they love the part of the scheme they’re in. We don’t have to do things different, we just have to do things better. ‘Let’s run the route at this level. Let’s make this block here.’ It’s so easy to just say, ‘Well, the scheme doesn’t work.’”
Neither Julio Jones (two touchdowns in the last nine games) nor Roddy White (seemingly an afterthought in game plans) are happy. But Ryan doesn’t look overwhelmed or extraordinarily uncomfortable, as some have suggested. He simply has made too many poor decisions and bad throws at the wrong time for a team that has little margin for error. He is forcing things more than he should be.
Two noteworthy statistics:
• Ryan has five fourth-quarter interceptions, more than in an any other quarter. All have come in one-score games.
• During the Falcons’ 1-6 stretch, they have scored only 11 touchdowns in 24 red zone possessions. Ryan has 10 touchdown passes but also six turnovers (three interceptions, three fumbles).
Can he help it if receivers don’t get open or an offensive lineman gets steamrolled? No. But when the quarterback has the ball in his hand, he is the player most in control of what happens next.
Those on the silly “Fire Shanahan” bandwagon point to the miserable results with Donovan McNabb (end-of-career version), Rex Grossman (never any good) and Robert Griffin III (head case) in Washington, and Brian Hoyer (mediocre) and Johnny Manziel (so many problems) in Cleveland — as if any mere mortal could touch those five and turn them into gold.
Please, show me where he made a good quarterback bad. Anybody? Why not point to his work with Matt Schaub in Houston in 2009, when Schaub had career highs in touchdowns, yards, completion percentage and efficiency rating? I know. It doesn’t fit the narrative.
Secondly, Ryan is an eighth-year quarterback. Shanahan’s offense is different from what Ryan has been operating in the past but it’s not like the quarterback is being asked to transition from Legos to microchips, nor is there a defense he hasn’t played against.
Adjustment period? Absolutely. But, “There’s always a transition period,” Shanahan said. “That’s not just here with Matt, it’s what coaching is. It’s not just with the quarterback. … It’s an easy thing to say when you’re struggling. To say it’s just the transition wouldn’t be accurate because that would have been true at the beginning of the season, too.”
Ryan said, “There’s a learning curve that comes with” the transition. “But I really believe he’s going to be here a long time and we’re going to win a lot of games together.”
That hasn’t been the case lately and it might be too late to fix the season. But don’t expect either to go anywhere.
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