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Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons Embrace Quick-Strike Passing Game


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http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000061433/article/matt-ryan-atlanta-falcons-embrace-quickstrike-passing-game

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons embrace quick-strike passing game

  • By Steve Wyche
  • Reporter, NFL.com and NFL Network
  • Published: Sept. 12, 2012 at 02:23 p.m.

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The end to the means is a lot simpler than expected. The explosive plays the Atlanta Falcons have sought for two seasons are coming via screens and short, quick passes, not so much via the deep ball -- although that is a constant threat. The added benefit to quickly getting the ball in the hands of dynamic wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White? A shaky offensive line isn't exposed -- therefore, neither is quarterback Matt Ryan.

"The screen game helps us out a bunch and takes a lot of pressure off us guys up front," center Todd McClure said.

The Falcons' short passing game was on display during the preseason and was a strong element in Atlanta's 40-24 season-opening victory over Kansas City. Jones' 14-yard touchdown came on a bubble screen that was so perfectly executed that the second-year wideout -- who might supplant White as Atlanta's No. 1 receiving option -- scored untouched.

The emphasis on the screen game was part of the game plan added by new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who came from Jacksonville after former Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey left Atlanta to become the Jaguars' head coach. As part of his offensive installation, Koetter also gave Ryan freedom to audible into screen plays if he notices favorable matchups.

"Matt has the freedom to check into that at the line of scrimmage," McClure said. "There are certain situations where Matt has complete control over what's going on. There are other situations where he's got a package he can check to. There are five or six plays to choose from based off what they give us. "He also has the freedom where, if he sees a route covered, he's got the ability to check us into protections to get it blocked or check to the screen." On Jones' aforementioned touchdown, Ryan went through the machinations of signaling to an alternative play at the line of scrimmage. It was so smooth and easy that it's clear the nuances of the passing game are ingrained. Executing is second-nature now. That's a reason why the offense looks so well-oiled.

Ryan is locked in, McClure said. The quarterback and the rest of the team are tired of failing in January. The Falcons have been bumped from the postseason in their first playoff game three times on Ryan's watch, with the most recent loss being a 24-2 embarrassment to the New York Giants eight months ago. If they fall short again, there could be a lot more changes than just to the passing game. On the first day of offseason workouts, head coach Mike Smith conveyed the message that winning the regular season isn't enough: "Smitty made it clear. There was no reason to beat around the bush," McClure said. "We have to get [to the playoffs] and win some games."

With White and Jones being such dangerous threats, Koetter, with the blessing of Smith, came to Atlanta this summer with the goal of using the pass to set up the run -- a change for the run-first Falcons. The receivers were viewed as more favorable chain movers than 30-year-old running back Michael Turner, whose role, thus far, has been reduced. Turner won't be drastically curtailed because he is still productive and can help pull opposing safeties into the "box," which opens up passing lanes. McClure said the running game would be more of a factor in Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos. Although Atlanta ran it just 23 times against the Chiefs, the Falcons will look to pull Broncos safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, creating single-high safety situations. "We've got to be able to run the ball," McClure said. "But with the athletes we have on the edge, we've got to pass it more. It's something you have to do to win games. We have to have a run game to make those passes big."

Getting the ball out of Ryan's hands also keeps the franchise quarterback out of harm's way. He was sacked a career-high 26 times last season and felt uncomfortable in the pocket far more frequently because the offensive line couldn't hold up. The Falcons didn't do anything radical to change its offensive personnel in the offseason. Instead, it changed how it approached the passing game, by getting things going before the defense can react. More teams are trying to have quarterbacks unload the ball quickly to spare hits and pressure. Today's pass rushers are too athletic to keep at bay, McClure said, so offenses across the league look to get them chasing receivers instead of quarterbacks.

"All O-linemen love that, when you got a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hands," McClure said. "That's one thing about Matt: He gets the ball out of his hands before receivers break, and that makes offensive line look good. "A quarterback that holds on to the ball makes guys up front look bad. We don't like looking bad."

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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Sunday was the most comfortable and fluid I've ever seen Matt look....O-line did a stand-up job too. If we stay healthy I don't see many teams being able to keep up.

agreed. just hope Baker/Clabo hold up against Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil - much more difficult test on the pass rush and the pass coverage (Champ Bailey/Tracy Porter).

I don't think Broncos can stop us but they will slow us down more than Chefs did.

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agreed. just hope Baker/Clabo hold up against Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil - much more difficult test on the pass rush and the pass coverage (Champ Bailey/Tracy Porter).

I don't think Broncos can stop us but they will slow us down more than Chefs did.

If Reynolds and Blalock play well it can take the pressure off of Clabo and Baker and give Matt a pocket to step into like he routinely did Sudnay

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Today's pass rushers are too athletic to keep at bay, McClure said, so offenses across the league look to get them chasing receivers instead of quarterbacks. "All O-linemen love that, when you got a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hands," McClure said. "That's one thing about Matt: He gets the ball out of his hands before receivers break, and that makes offensive line look good. "A quarterback that holds on to the ball makes guys up front look bad. We don't like looking bad." Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

God you can say that again.

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Is it just me, or does Julio catch across the middle really really well? I know he can go up and get it, but some of his most explosive plays seem to be when he is hit in stride on a route across the middle. He doesn't seem to slow down going across the middle.

Exactamundo once Julio gets the ball he makes the first guy miss him and then he's gone. I love this Offense.

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Is it just me, or does Julio catch across the middle really really well? I know he can go up and get it, but some of his most explosive plays seem to be when he is hit in stride on a route across the middle. He doesn't seem to slow down going across the middle.

T.O carved out HOF numbers doing the same thing

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It sure did. Most of Jerry's damage came on quick slants and skinny posts where he did most of the work after he caught the ball.

Julio's perfect for the slant. He's strong enough to get through to air -- and fast enough to burn all the oxygen out of it on the way to the end zone. He could literally be unstoppable if they get it perfected.

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Julio's perfect for the slant. He's strong enough to get through to air -- and fast enough to burn all the oxygen out of it on the way to the end zone. He could literally be unstoppable if they get it perfected.

Him and Ryan seemed to have pretty good timing on those slants last season. The ones that went for touchdowns against the Colts and Panthers were beautiful. Speaking of touchdowns, Julio has scored a touchdown in his last 5 regular season games, which is the longest current streak in the NFL right now.

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Him and Ryan seemed to have pretty good timing on those slants last season. The ones that went for touchdowns against the Colts and Panthers were beautiful. Speaking of touchdowns, Julio has scored a touchdown in his last 5 regular season games, which is the longest current streak in the NFL right now.

Nice stat! I have a feeling that trend continues as long as he stays healthy.

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Julio's perfect for the slant. He's strong enough to get through to air -- and fast enough to burn all the oxygen out of it on the way to the end zone. He could literally be unstoppable if they get it perfected.

"Yes" Tandy, there probably is not a receiver in NFL that is more perfect for the slant than Julio - he is fearless, fast and strong as an ox - if Matt hits Julio in stride - and he has a step - its six points no doubt - just like in Indy last year. Julio is a straight freak.

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agreed. just hope Baker/Clabo hold up against Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil - much more difficult test on the pass rush and the pass coverage (Champ Bailey/Tracy Porter).

I don't think Broncos can stop us but they will slow us down more than Chefs did.

I agree but I'm not too worried about Porter. Roddy's owned him quite a bit in NO. Plus, their safeties aren't good and will have to help cover Tony. Establish the run early and we should have play actions wide open. They are weak up the middle (DT, LB, S).

If Reynolds and Blalock play well it can take the pressure off of Clabo and Baker and give Matt a pocket to step into like he routinely did Sunday

He should be able to too. Their DTs aren't too strong. Wolfe is the best interior rusher. If they can hold up, we should have a good game.

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The only negative with these plays over the middle is the concern for big hits to our coveted receivers. With how much these receivers mean to our team i hate to even think of it. Last year in the second Detroit Chicago game i swear it was a part of the bears game plan to have a line backer light up Calvin any time he came across the middle. It got to the point where calvin wanted nothing to do with it. This is what will start to happen if we show that we can be deadly with this. Matt and the boys better be smart about this.

Edited by Atlfanstckndenver
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The only negative with these plays over the middle is the concern for big hits to our coveted receivers. With how much these receivers mean to our team i hate to even think of it. Last year in the second Detroit Chicago game i swear it was a part of the bears game plan to have a line backer light up Calvin any time he came across the middle. It got to the point where calvin wanted nothing to do with it. This is what will start to happen if we show that we can be deadly with this. Matt and the boys better be smart about this.

On straight crossing routes yeah but it's hard to get a good hit on a quick slant.

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Think about it. We have two bigtime physical wideouts who can run after the catch. They are dangerous getting the ball quickly when corners play off of them. AND... if someone wants to dare to shceme a jam-them-at-the-LOS coverage, then that'll be the time I sit on the edge of my seat and watch a mismatch.

I mean whose gonna out muscle and out run Julio at the point of attack? Who? Revis? Love to see that matchup as well... Thing is, champ and porter have no idea what they are in for...

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