Matt Ryan Will Avoid the Super Bowl Hangover
NFC South quarterback. League MVP. Conference champion. Crushing defeat on the biggest stage.
Newton followed his best season with what was arguably his worst. He posted career lows in QB rating and completion percentage. Now, there are those who would project the same outcome onto Matt Ryan just because his situation is similar. Except it’s really not. If you take a hard left off Narrative Street and instead opt to look at their football situations, you’ll see Ryan’s game is poised for sustainability in ways that Newton’s game was not. None of this is to say that Ryan will repeat his MVP performance, but rather he’s not going to crash and burn like his Carolina counterpart.
In a list of every factor that went into Ryan’s resurgence last year, his offensive line belongs near the top. His line gave him an average of 2.64 seconds to throw each pass – better than 29 other qualified quarterbacks. Usually, it’s a bad thing if a QB holds on to the ball for too long, but it allowed Ryan to run the most explosive offense in the game with his lethal deep ball. The addition of Alex Mack as a replacement for Mike Person at center might have been the single biggest improvement at one position throughout the entire league. Person, a guard by trade, struggled to snap the ball, resulting in several turnovers. Not only could Mack safely deliver the snap, but he played well enough to earn a spot on the All-Pro Second Team. Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons line 6th-best at the end of the season. For comparison, Newton’s crew came in 17th. Most importantly, the only member of the Falcons line that won’t be returning in 2017 is Chris Chester, who opted to retire. Chester was by far the weak link of the group, and while the team doesn’t have a replacement named just yet, it’s hard to imagine that whoever it is can be anything but an improvement.
In fact, Chester is pretty much the only member of the entire starting offense who won’t be around anymore. Julio Jones will be an Atlanta lifer, Mohamed Sanu was just signed to a big deal last year, and hidden gem Taylor Gabriel signed a second-round tender. The fourth option, Aldrick Robinson, departed for San Fransisco with Kyle Shanahan, but he’ll be replaced by Andre Roberts, a player of very similar talent and pedigree. Lethal running back duo Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both still on their rookie deals, too, as is premier receiving tight end Austin Hooper.
This is a long way of saying that Ryan’s 2017 situation will almost mirror the one from 2016, which is something very few quarterbacks can claim. The big difference and the elephant in the room is, of course, the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who many credited (and fairly so) with engineering Ryan’s resurgence. While this is definitely a major change that cannot be ignored, Shanahan also seemed to garner a bit too much credit at times. Don’t forget that Shanahan was around for 2015 as well, which happened to be one of Ryan’s worst seasons as a pro. If this excellent piece from the Bleacher Report is to be believed, the difference was much more Ryan than it was Shanahan.
Ryan’s greatest asset, bar none, is his durability. Brett Favre has the record for consecutive starts, and Eli Manning has the longest active streak, meaning that it’s usually one of these two that you hear about when discussing iron man QBs. But Matt Ryan has his own streak dating back to 2009, good for the third-longest active streak in the league and the seventh best ever. It’s in this realm that Ryan manages to separate his ability to achieve consistent play into a tier well above that of Newton. Despite some hopeful claims to the contrary over the past few years, the pocket passer remains the ideal build for quarterbacks. The league’s premier dual threats – Newton, Russell Wilson, and even Aaron Rodgers – have been subject to wild bouts of inconsistency as of late. These guys tend to get hurt a lot, not just because they put themselves in vulnerable situations, but also because if you’re on the opposing defense, the best way to stop the QB from leaving the pocket is to make him pay every time he tries to do so. Cam was the shining example of this last year, where a season-opening debacle was followed by another 3000000713642/Cam-Newton-heads-to-locker-room-after-hit-on-2-pt-conversion”>bell ringing just a few weeks later. Toward the end of the season, coach Ron Rivera all but admitted that Cam would have to be used differently.
Most proponents of Ryan’s regression won’t outright compare him to Newton. As a result, this attempt to dispel the notion that Ryan won’t follow in Newton’s footsteps is admittedly something of a straw man. But the eagerness to predict Ryan’s collapse despite all signs pointing toward more of the same is just fishy, and there are definitely some people out there who aren’t afraid to ride the lazy narrative. Don’t be one of those people. Look at the hard facts, not the coincidental similarities.