Did you know that no Atlanta Falcon ever led the NFL in passing yards for a season? I thought maybe Steve Bartkowski would have once, but nope. Matt Ryan is a +800 fifth-favorite on 5Dimes' NFL odds to become the first Atlanta QB to do so in 2015.
New Schemes For Falcons
Ryan had never played for an NFL head coach other than Mike Smith, but that will change this year as Smith was fired after the Atlanta Falcons finished 6-10 in 2014 --- losing a winner-take-all NFC South game in Week 17 at home to Carolina -- and missed the playoffs for a second straight season. The new head coach is Dan Quinn, but his focus will be on the defensive side of the ball as he was formerly Seattle's defensive coordinator. The team hired Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator; Shanahan was actually formally hired before Quinn was because Quinn's Seattle Seahawks were in the Super Bowl.
That Shanahan hiring really didn't get Falcons fans too excited. He was the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2014 but parted ways with the team amid reported friction between Cleveland's coaching staff and front office. The front office wanted the coaches to play Johnny Manziel and Shanahan wasn't on board with that so he asked to be released from his contract after the season and the Browns agreed.
The Browns weren't exactly a great offensive team last year. Meanwhile, Atlanta finished eighth in the NFL in total offense under former coordinator Dirk Koetter, averaging 378.2? yards per game. Shanahan did find some success while in Washington when Robert Griffin III was a rookie and of course Shanahan's father Mike was the team's head coach. Really this is Shanahan's first established quarterback he has coached since Matt Schaub with Houston in 2009. The Texans led the league in passing that year. In four of his seven years as a coordinator, Shanahan’s offense has finished in the Top 10 of the league in yardage.
Return To 2012 Form?
The bloom is off the rose for Ryan a bit right now. Before the 2013 season, he and the Falcons agreed on a five-year extension worth nearly $104 million with $63 million due to Ryan in the deal's first three years. That extension looked smart for Atlanta then as the team never had a losing record under Ryan since he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2008 out of Boston College. And Ryan's 2012 season was his best as he set career highs in completion percentage (68.6), yards (4,719), touchdown passes (32) and rating (99.1). The Falcons were the NFC's No. 1 seed after a 13-3 regular season and lost a heartbreaker at home to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.
Ryan has been pretty solid the past two years, but not as good as 2012 and the Falcons are just 10-22. Last season, Ryan completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 4,694 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 picks for a rating of 93.9. To be fair to him, the Falcons have not been able to find a consistent running game the past two seasons and the offensive line has been injury-ravaged and generally below average. Ryan has one of the five best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones, who caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six scores in 2014. It's imperative that the Falcons keep Jones healthy. Fellow receiver Roddy White 980 catches, 921 yards, seven TDs) remains a good player and the team added another red zone target for Ryan in tight end Jacob Tamme.
The offensive line should be improved this season with a few new additions and good health for Jake Matthews, the No. 6 overall pick in 2014. I also think the running game will be better with second-year Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman. Shanahan's system relies on athletic linemen capable of getting out and moving in an outside zone-blocking scheme.
Two other things working in Ryan's favor: he shouldn't be playing in any cold-weather outdoor games and the Falcons have the easiest schedule in the NFL as their opponents combined for a winning percentage of just .410 last year.
NFL Free Pick: I am big on Jones leading the NFL in receiving yards this season if he plays all 16 games. I do think Ryan will be in the mix for the passing yards title at +800 NFL odds at 5Dimes but I don't think he will win it.