The Falcons rise and fall with Ryan

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is pursued by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry (95) in the second half Sept. 14 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Credit: Frank Victores

Credit: Frank Victores

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is pursued by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry (95) in the second half Sept. 14 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

It’s been an up-and-down-and-up-again season for Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

They hope the trend doesn’t continue with another poor road performance against the Vikings on Sunday.

Look no further than Ryan’s performances through three games to see just why the Falcons stand at 2-1 with wins at home and a loss on the road.

  • He completed 31 of 43 passes for 448 yards with three touchdowns and a 128.8 quarterback rating in a 37-34 overtime win over the Saints.
  • He completed 22 of 44 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a 48.6 quarterback rating in a 24-10 loss to the Bengals.
  • He completed 21 of 24 passes for 286 yards with three touchdowns and a 155.9 quarterback rating and sat much of the second half in a 56-14 win over the Buccaneers.

Ryan and the Falcons likely will see much the same defensive scheme against the Vikings. First-year coach Mike Zimmer spent the past six seasons as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator.

“Scheme-wise, Cincinnati had a lot of success against us, and I’m sure that Minnesota is going to look at that film and know exactly what Cincinnati was doing and probably use a lot of the things we saw in that game,” Ryan said Wednesday.

The Falcons had a short week following the loss to the Bengals, as they hosted the Bucs four days later in a nationally televised Thursday night game. Ryan said he still took time to study what went so wrong.

“I watched that game Sunday night and went through it and had a good feel for some of the things what we didn’t do well,” Ryan said. “Like any week, we’ll make our notes, talk about the things we wished we would have done, and I think this is a week you can go back and review those things because you are going against a similar opponent.”

The Falcons got well in a hurry against the woeful Bucs. Ryan was named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week for his performance, the second time this season he achieved that honor and sixth time in his career. His 87.5 completion percentage and 155.9 quarterback rating set single-game franchise records, besting Steve Bartkowski’s 85.7 percentage and Wade Wilson’s 154.5 rating. The Falcons improved to 20-1 when Ryan throws three touchdowns and 36-2 when he has a passer rating of 100 or higher.

As goes Ryan, so goes the Falcons.

After three weeks, Ryan ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (965), third in yards per game (321.7) and fourth in touchdowns (7). His rating of 105.1 ranks fifth among all quarterbacks with more than 40 pass attempts.

According to Pro Football Focus statistics, Ryan spread the wealth against the Bucs. He was 5-of-5 for 46 yards on passes to the left, 12-of-14 for 146 yards on passes in the middle and 4-of-5 for 94 yards on passes to the right. His quarterback rating was a solid 91.7 when blitzed. He will see different and more complex pressure packages against the Vikings.

“I think one of the things we did better, across the board, against the Bucs was identifying fronts and identifying personnel groupings and where guys were lined up,” Ryan said.

Ryan said there is no real secret to why the Falcons have excelled or struggled on offense this season. He said the central statistic is third-down efficiency. The Falcons were 6-for-11 and 8-for-11 on third downs against the Saints and Bucs. They were only 3-for-12 against the Bengals.

“It’s going to be a point of emphasis, and we’ve got to make first downs on first and second downs as well, keep drives going,” Ryan said. “For me, that’s probably the biggest difference in the three weeks. …

“In each of those two games where we did start fast we converted third downs early in the game. We’ve got to play well on the road. We’ve got to be efficient on first down and try to get some first downs on first and second down, but also keep ourselves in third-and-short. If we can do that, I feel like that gives us our best chance.”

The Falcons’ 50 percent third-down conversion rate ranks fifth in the NFL behind only the Saints (61.5), Lions (56.3), Cowboys (54.3) and 49ers (52.6).

Center Joe Hawley cautioned that three games is not a sufficient sample size to judge the up-and-down Falcons offense.

“Obviously going on the road is a lot more difficult in the NFL,” Hawley said. “One game on the road, everybody is taking it out of context a little bit. You are going to struggle sometimes, but we’ve got to make the corrections and move on to the next one.”