The pressure is building on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who signed a huge contract after guiding the franchise to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons.
Since inking his five-year $103.75 million deal in July 2013, the Falcons are 6-18 and currently don’t resemble a playoff team as they return to the practice field Monday following their bye week. Having dropped five straight games since routing Tampa Bay 56-14 on Sept. 18, the Falcons face the same Bucs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Despite their first result, the Falcons are expecting a tough battle.
“This is the second game,” special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. “They are going to want some form of revenge. You have to take that approach to it. The onus is on us to go out and do our job and respect what they can do.”
In the past, Ryan has brushed off suggestions of mounting pressure since signing the new deal, but indications are starting to show in his play that he’s over-extending himself and perhaps trying to play up to the level of his deal.
An interception in the last game against Detroit, where he threw a pass across the field, was an example. Normally, Ryan would have just ran or sailed the ball out of bounds.
“Matt doesn’t make a lot of bad plays. When he does, he doesn’t need me to tell him about it,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “He is way harder on himself than anybody else would ever be. You love that in a player.”
Koetter was seen counseling Ryan after the errand throw, which helped to fuel Detroit’s rally from a 21-0 deficit to a 22-21 victory.
“I was just trying to get Matt to forget about it and move on,” Koetter said. “It’s hard not to dwell on a major mistake. Matt is going to beat himself up. So at that point in the game, I was just trying to tell him to let it go. Move on. We’re going to need you to make some big plays as the game continued to unfold.”
Before the weekend’s games, Ryan was the fifth-rated quarterback in the league by Pro Football Focus.
Over 524 snaps, 333 dropbacks and 305 attempts, he completed 198 passes for 2,306 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per completion.
He has 20 dropped passes, which tied Detroit’s Matthew Stafford for second-most in the league. Ryan has also thrown eight interceptions, which was tied for sixth-most in the league.
Ryan is facing an increasingly difficult task in trying to revive the Falcons. The offensive line has been hit hard by injuries for the second consecutive season. The team hopes to lean more heavily on the ground game over the second half of the season, even though the team ranks 25th in league rushing.
“We try to have 55 percent efficiency on run-downs plays,” Koetter said. “We were at 53 percent in the first half (against the Lions).”
The Falcons also need the defense to become stouter. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan felt his unit struggled in the first four games of the season, but started to show signs of improvement over the second quarter.
“The last four, I thought we made some strides, particularly in the running game,” Nolan said. “We still continue to have problems … in the pass rush. There is no question about that. … Sacks obviously add up to longer third downs and things like that. We haven’t done that very well.”
The Falcons received a spark from their special teams in the victory over the Bucs. Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt return that night was his 20th career touchdown return, breaking the mark held by former Falcons returner Deion Sanders.
The Bucs have since re-stocked their special teams.
“They’ve sprinkled in some starters on the punt and kickoff teams,” Armstrong said. “You’ll see some guys rotating in on some (special teams) plays for them. They’ve solidified some things from a coverage standpoint.”