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NFL Thursday Night; Falcons at Buccaneers

What’s made Matt Ryan so good this year? Spoiler alert: I don’t know. (Photo by: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Ryan is a legitimate MVP candidate this season. He leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. He’s ranked 3rd in completion percentage behind two guys named Tom Brady and Drew Brees. If his production doesn’t fall off a cliff, Ryan will finish with the best season of his NFL career. The big question then is: What’s the difference between 2015 Matt Ryan and the present model?

My answer; I don’t know.

Great insight, right? Well, I’ve watched every Atlanta game this season and I can’t for the life of me pinpoint the reason for Ryan’s superb play other than “he’s simply better.” I went through the stats and couldn’t find an obvious answer there either.

According to Football Outsiders, Atlanta’s pass protection surrendered 32 sacks and ranked 9th in pass protection in 2015. Their adjusted sack rate was 5.4%. Through eight games this season, Atlanta has allowed 20 sacks at a 6.6% adjusted sack rate. That ranks them 22nd in pass protection. The Falcons are on pace to give up 20% more sacks in 2016 than they did a year ago, so that can’t be the answer.

The running game must have improved dramatically then. Eh, not really. In 2015, the Falcons scored 13 rushing touchdowns and averaged 100 yards per game at 3.8 yards per rush. They’re averaging 111 through eight games this season at 4.4 yards per rush and have scored 8 rushing touchdowns. Slight improvement there, but nothing dramatic enough to convince me that it’s the reason for Ryan’s improved play.

Offensive personnel changes may be the explanation. The Falcons added center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, but as previously mentioned, the pass protection has actually regressed. Sanu’s numbers have been an improvement over Roddy White’s a year ago, but he’s only on pace to finish with a 160 yards more than White did a year ago. While Julio Jones is having another great season, his numbers are lower than a season ago. In fact, the biggest jump in production via the passing game is from running back Tevin Coleman. Last year Coleman was non-existent in the offense (14 receiving yards in 2015). This season he’s accounted for 330 receiving yards in 7 games. With the addition of Coleman into the offense and Sanu opposite Jones, there’s no doubt Ryan’s weapons have improved. However, I’m not willing to credit those improvements entirely for Ryan’s great season.

Look at Ryan’s numbers through eight games this year:

2,636 yards, 69.2 completion percentage, 9.45 yards per attempt, 19 TD, 4 INT.

His QBR is 81.9 and his rating is 115.8, both are second only to Tom Brady. Now look at Ryan’s career year in 2012;

4,719 yards, 68.6%, 7.67 avg, 32 TD, 14 INT, QBR of 73.8, rating of 99.1.

Ryan is on pace to top his career high in yards by 500+ yards, throw a half dozen more touchdowns and slash his turnovers in half, all while having the highest completion percentage and yards per attempt of his career. This is the Matt Ryan we expected for the last three seasons. I know he’s thrown two bad interceptions while leading late in the 4th quarter, and that’s obviously a problem, but Ryan’s turnovers are still way down. His best TD:INT ratio since his breakout 2012 season was 2:1 in 2014. He’s near 5:1 right now. In 2015 he fumbled 12 times and lost 5. He’s fumbled only once this season.

There are a number of reasons Matt Ryan is having an MVP season, but none greater than Matt Ryan is simply better than he’s ever been. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -4.5

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