How Can the Packers Stop the Falcons' Matt Ryan?
Quarterback Matt Ryan leads a dangerous Falcons offense. Their offense was one of five this season that scored over 32 points in ten games. Sunday’s NFC Championship Game is expected to be a shootout, much like when Atlanta slipped past Green Bay, 33-32, in an October matchup.
Ryan has been excellent so far this season, and his success has been due in part to the great Falcons coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has helped resurrect quarterback Ryan’s career.
While Ryan was once known for postseason disappointment, he’s piled up monstrous numbers this year and dispatched one of the league’s best defenses last week, shredding the Seattle Seahawks, thanks in part to an evolution of Shanahan’s offense.
Ryan predicted his success early last season
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Falcons’ offense, who threw 17 interceptions and fumbled the ball away 13 times last year in Shanahan’s first season as offensive coordinator. This year, they’ve turned the ball over only 11 times (7 interceptions, 4 fumbles).
Early in that first season, Ryan pulled Shanahan aside during a September game and said, “I can’t wait until I know the offense inside and out, though, bro ... because we are going to kill people with it.”
Well, it’s safe to say he’s figured out the offense. Ryan’s 117.1 passer rating in 2016 is higher than any Aaron Rodgers has posted in a full season besides his MVP campaign in 2011.
Will Dom Capers blitz Ryan more than their last meeting?
Matt Ryan has always built his game around relatively quick, short throws. Until this year, Ryan had never averaged more than 7.5 yards per attempt. That’s not to say he can’t go deep. He can. But Ryan’s quick throws are a tactic designed to negate one of a defense’s best weapons: the blitz.
It’s no secret that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves the blitz. Green Bay prefers to play a “nickel” defensive lineup, with two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs. With more athlete bodies on the field, it allows Capers greater flexibility in how to get after the quarterback, bringing pressure from creative directions.
Capers’ pressure packages didn't exactly work against the Cowboys. The Packers brought pressure nine times on rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. On those dropbacks, he threw for two of his three touchdowns and generated a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Ryan had great success against Seattle’s blitzes as well. The Seahawks brought heavy pressure against Ryan on Saturday, perhaps in hopes of disrupting his deep throws, which had been very successful this season. That may have worked: Ryan only completed one pass over 15 yards.
But when the Seahawks blitzed, Ryan completed 8-of-12 passes for 132 yards. His eight completions against the blitz were a season-high. The effect Seattle’s pressure had on Ryan caused him to avoid deep throws.
Throughout the Packers’ duels with Ryan, Capers has varied his pressure tactics. When the Packers and Falcons squared off in the regular season in 2010, Ryan completed 24-of-28 passes for only 197 yards. Capers rarely blitzed that day, save for the game’s final drive when the Packers were trying to keep Atlanta out of field goal position.
The two teams met again in the postseason, and Capers blitzed Ryan to great success. Pressure from the Packers helped Tramon Williams intercept two passes late in the second quarter as the Packers piled up 35 unanswered points.
When the Packers and Falcons met earlier this season, Ryan dropped back to pass 39 times and was under pressure nine times. He completed 6-of-7 passes for 57 yards and was sacked twice.
Interestingly enough, Ryan hardly attacked the Packers secondary on the edge of the field like the Lions, Giants and Cowboys have done over the past three weeks. He didn’t attempt a single pass that traveled more than 10 yards in the air and was outside of the numbers – if he did throw deep, it was in the middle of the field.
If the Packers are to advance to Super Bowl LI, Matt Ryan will need to be held in check. Just how Capers plans to do that will be interesting to watch.