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Falcons look like team that should move on from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones - The Athletic


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by Jeff Schultz for The Athletic 

 

In more successful and less desperate times, Arthur Blank said he wanted the two gems of his NFL franchise to be “Falcons for life.” Hard to believe, but those warm-and-fuzzy soundbites weren’t that long ago. Matt Ryan wasn’t far removed from an MVP award. Julio Jones was arguably the best wide receiver in the game and could make it through 16 games, even if wrapped in duct tape. And the team: still some semblance of a threat.

But as this team staggers through the final weeks of a third straight playoff-less season, two things are becoming abundantly clear: One, this team needs a major and painful rebuild; two, the Falcons look ready, and should feel ready, to move on from their two stars.

The Falcons blew another second-half lead and lost 20-17 to the Los Angeles Chargers, who entered the game with a 3-9 record, seem likely to fire their coach and had been dismembered in their previous game 45-0 by a pedestrian New England team.

When you get matchups like Falcons-Chargers, or 4-8 vs. 3-9, you often get two teams that look at each other on film during the week and think, “We may stink, but at least we can beat those guys.”

But the Falcons couldn’t out-Charger the Chargers. Or the Chargers couldn’t out-Falcon the Falcons. I dunno. It’s so confusing.

Consider this decisive late-game sequence: The teams swapped possession after three consecutive interceptions. First Ryan, a 13-year veteran, threw one. Then Justin Herbert, a 22-year-old rookie, threw one. Then Ryan threw another — his third in four Falcons possessions in the second half. The final one simultaneously killed a potential game-winning field goal drive with 30 seconds remaining and set up L.A.’s game-winning kick from 43 yards as time ran out.

The Falcons and Chargers are now tied for the fourth-worst record in the NFL at 4-9. So with three games left, the Falcons are in the hunt for a top-five pick. They can at least thank Ryan for that because this might be a good offseason to draft a quarterback.

The team’s next general manager and coach will tackle a roster with a number of issues, but those start with what to do about Ryan and Jones. The Falcons would sustain a significant salary-cap hit if they trade either one, but the situation is a little more palatable with Jones. Calvin Ridley has become an elite wide receiver, reaffirmed Sunday by his eight receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown in this game. The Falcons also received a strong performance from Russell Gage, who had five catches for 82 yards and a 39-yard touchdown pass to Ridley out of the wildcat formation. (It was his first pass completion since high school quarterback days, although it’s worth noting Jones dropped a would-be TD pass from Gage in the Dallas game). Even wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who was cut, signed to the practice squad and only recently activated, made a clutch 9-yard touchdown catch.

The point is that while Jones can still play — even with his health an increasing issue — the Falcons won’t be devastated at wide receiver without him. The salary-cap hit for Jones in 2021 is roughly the same whether he’s on the roster ($23.05 million) or not ($23.25 million dead money). But the team could gain a trade asset in return, like a needed draft pick.

Ryan is the bigger problem. The Falcons have restructured his contract three times to create cap space for other contracts. At some point, you can’t keep kicking the can down the road. Ryan’s cap hit jumps to $40,912,500 next season if he’s on the roster. If the Falcons trade him, the dead money hit would be a dizzying $44,437,500. The next front office could split Ryan’s or Jones’ cap hit across two seasons (2021-22) with a post-June move, but general managers generally would prefer to avoid that because it slows the rebuilding process.

The most likely scenario is the team will consider a move with Jones but hold on to Ryan for one more season.

Ryan isn’t the same quarterback he was in 2016. We can debate whether it’s the natural erosion of skills that often accompanies a pro athlete being 35 years old or just a decline in decision-making. But he was bad Sunday, and he hasn’t been great overall this season. His three interceptions give him eight in the past six games. He threw only three in the first seven games.

Asked if games like this lead him to think about his future and how much he has left, Ryan said no: “I have plenty in the tank. I just have to play better.”

How would he grade himself this season? “Like all of us, not good enough. In certain situations, we’ve done some nice things, and in certain situations, we haven’t. But I don’t worry about anything but today, and today was not good enough on my part.”

It certainly was not. Ryan is not the Falcons’ only problem. But the quarterback is not playing well, and he also makes the most money, and he’s 35 years old, and the team is 18-27 the past three seasons with Ryan front and center.

Interim coach Raheem Morris said he still has confidence in Ryan. But here’s how Morris described Ryan’s third interception, which was thrown too soft and behind Ridley on a short out pattern from the Chargers’ 45: “He missed the spot. Had an outside breaking route, and he threw it behind a little bit, and the corner made a great play. Didn’t get the throw he normally gets. … We’re going to put the ball in our best player’s hands right there, and he made a mistake. We can second-guess (the play call) and make some different plays. … (But) the ball’s in our best player’s hands, and we expect him to make those plays, and he expects to make those plays.”

Ryan didn’t dispute that. All three interceptions were either poor throws or poor decisions.

Interception 1: The Falcons led 17-10 in the third quarter. On first down from the Chargers’ 43, Ryan decided to throw deep to Ridley in the end zone, but Ridley was double covered, and the ball was picked off by safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Ryan said he was trying to be aggressive and give Ridley a chance to make a play. “Of the three interceptions, that’s probably one you can live with.” We disagree. The Falcons were nearing field goal range. If Ryan was going to throw that pass, it needed to be in a safer spot.

Interception 2: After a holding penalty, the Falcons faced second-and-17 from the Chargers’ 26, still in field goal range. But Ryan stared down Hayden Hurst for too long, and Ryan’s toss over the middle was picked by Jahleel Addae. Ryan’s confession: “I was a little late. He did a nice job of slow playing it, but that was poor on me. I have to get the ball out right away, give Hayden a chance.”

Interception 3: The Chargers had given the ball right back to the Falcons when Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off a Herbert pass. Three plays later, the Falcons had a first down at the L.A. 45, but Ryan threw late and behind Ridley, who had run a 12-yard, and it was intercepted by Michael Davis with 30 seconds remaining. Ryan: “I have to make a better throw and a better decision. That’s on me. Too much air. Not enough pace. Too far inside. Not a good combination.”

The Falcons have three games left, three more games for them and future job candidates to consider what they want to do about Ryan and Jones. Maybe both stick for another year. Maybe not. But the freshness date on “Falcons for life” appears to have expired.
 

 

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Yayyyyyyyy, I'm not the only fan who thinks that anymore!  I'm gonna make myself some cookies.  

And INT 3 all Ryan had to do was hand off or take a 5 step and slide.  We were just about in Koo's sweet spot.  And everyone watching the game knew that.  And everyone watching, even the ones wearing their MR2 jerseys knew there was no chance he'd seal that deal with his feet even if it meant winning the game.  That's been the problem for more than this season but we're starting to acknowledge it tonight.  Don't hate, he was awesome.  He hasn't been awesome for 3 seasons solid.  He's had moments and some great games but not enough to warrant a starting job.

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I don’t think both need to go, at least not at the same time. Nor do they even have to go this upcoming offseason. If you get rid of Matt, you don’t need to get rid of Julio IMO unless you feel like being nice and giving him another shot at a SB with a different team. If you get rid of Julio, however, then you probably need to get rid of Matt too. The offense without Julio is just so putrid that at that point it doesn’t even matter who’s out there. Koetter is largely to blame but every other receiver relies on Julios presence so much that him being gone just makes the passing attack hard to watch. 

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20 minutes ago, Beast-N-Da-Sheetz said:

As far as I'm concerned, Ryan and Julio are both good here for another year. Anything after that is up in the air. We definitely need to draft a QB next year though.

Love your posts, 

I agree though and I've been saying it for a while. If the opportunity presents itself to restock the cabinet then we should do it. We just lost the Chokers bowl to a team that couldn't figure out how to kick before half time in the most falchoke way possible. The difference is Herbert is Young and ascending and Ryan has had the best weapons in the nfl since we traded for Tony Gonzales. IMO we should draft QB this year because the class that is coming out is the best QB class in a long time, unless the good ones are taken and Jamarr Chase falls then we take him. 

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2 minutes ago, Osiruz said:

Love your posts, 

I agree though and I've been saying it for a while. If the opportunity presents itself to restock the cabinet then we should do it. We just lost the Chokers bowl to a team that couldn't figure out how to kick before half time in the most falchoke way possible. The difference is Herbert is Young and ascending and Ryan has had the best weapons in the nfl since we traded for Tony Gonzales. IMO we should draft QB this year because the class that is coming out is the best QB class in a long time, unless the good ones are taken and Jamarr Chase falls then we take him. 

Yeah when I say draft one next year I'm talking about 2021 also. I want Fields or Wilson. Wilson being the more realistic option.

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1 hour ago, Atlantafan21 said:

I don’t think both need to go, at least not at the same time. Nor do they even have to go this upcoming offseason. If you get rid of Matt, you don’t need to get rid of Julio IMO unless you feel like being nice and giving him another shot at a SB with a different team. If you get rid of Julio, however, then you probably need to get rid of Matt too. The offense without Julio is just so putrid that at that point it doesn’t even matter who’s out there. Koetter is largely to blame but every other receiver relies on Julios presence so much that him being gone just makes the passing attack hard to watch. 

Folks forget that Quinn brought Koetter in to run a version of Shannahans offense that Ryan liked.....to prevent him from changing offenses. So really everyone is crapping on a guy who is running someone's else's offense. Same thing with Sarkasian. The front office has turned itself in knots trying to help Ryan....he can throw another 15 picks and his job is safe....why You ask? Who would we put in instead? F.O knows that anyone with a pulse would cause a qb controversy and MR MVP probably doesn't have the guts for that fight...competition at every spot except one.

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1 hour ago, cblack said:

Folks forget that Quinn brought Koetter in to run a version of Shannahans offense that Ryan liked.....to prevent him from changing offenses. So really everyone is crapping on a guy who is running someone's else's offense. Same thing with Sarkasian. The front office has turned itself in knots trying to help Ryan....he can throw another 15 picks and his job is safe....why You ask? Who would we put in instead? F.O knows that anyone with a pulse would cause a qb controversy and MR MVP probably doesn't have the guts for that fight...competition at every spot except one.

Good post.

The hard truth.

I’m tired of seeing this team stumble over themselves trying to make this a suitable environment for Ryan. What they give him is never good enough.

I’d rather keep Julio over Ryan if it comes down to it.
He’s a legendary receiver that can still get it done its just at this point in his career he needs a QB that can get him the ball with velocity that will give him that split second of time to brace himself before contact. He needs a QB that takes the PRESSURE off of him being the main focus

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Its painful to look back at last years draft and see Marlon Davidson as our pick when you watch Jalen Hurts go out there this week and light up the #1 defense in the league in his first start. A team that had not won a game in 6 weeks that looked lifeless with their 100m+ QB (sound familiar?) goes out and beats the #1 team in the NFC with Hurts at the helm. He also broke a ridiculous streak the Saints had of not allowing a 100+ yard rusher for like 55 games (As did Miles Sanders in the same game)

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Just now, PriMeTiiMe said:

Its painful to look back at last years draft and see Marlon Davidson as our pick when you watch Jalen Hurts go out there this week and light up the #1 defense in the league in his first start. A team that had not won a game in 6 weeks that looked lifeless with their 100m+ QB (sound familiar?) goes out and beats the #1 team in the NFC with Hurts at the helm. He also broke a ridiculous streak the Saints had of not allowing a 100+ yard rusher for like 55 games (As did Miles Sanders in the same game)

🤨

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Just now, TheTrue7 said:

🤨

Go check the numbers. Going into that game they had the #1 defense in YPG and dropped to #2 after the game. 5th in PPG. 7th in turnovers. 4th in Sacks.

Best Defense, 2nd best, 3rd best whatever you want to call them, Hurts had his way with them and his team won against the #1 record in the NFC (prior to the loss)

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7 hours ago, Beast-N-Da-Sheetz said:

As far as I'm concerned, Ryan and Julio are both good here for another year. Anything after that is up in the air. We definitely need to draft a QB next year though.

Pretty much.  We've made our bed with Matt and Julio though 2021 both contractually and while both are not the players they once were, we don't appear to have better answers on the roster.   I also have no expectations that the draft will improve on either position in 2021.

My hope is that Julio will retire before the Falcons have to cut or trade him.  My hope is that we can get a capable young QB to learn behind Matt and bring him on as Matt's contract gets paid down or renegotiated.   Like Blank, I want both to leave the game as Falcons (none of that 1-day contract stuff).   

That said it gets harder and harder to call this a bad streak, OC's fault or to reminisce of days when Julio was healthy enough to be a factor (hurt or not).   Matt was less prone to granny throws and/or throwing up 50/50 balls to 5-10 180lb guys who aren't known for contested catches. 

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1 minute ago, PriMeTiiMe said:

Go check the numbers. Going into that game they had the #1 defense in YPG and dropped to #2 after the game. 5th in PPG. 7th in turnovers. 4th in Sacks.

Best Defense, 2nd best, 3rd best whatever you want to call them, Hurts had his way with them and his team won against the #1 record in the NFC (prior to the loss)

Dude.. had his way with them? If MR had that line, he would be crucified. Hurts ran a lot. But to sit here and talk about having his way with them? Come on

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1 minute ago, TheTrue7 said:

Dude.. had his way with them? If MR had that line, he would be crucified. Hurts ran a lot. But to sit here and talk about having his way with them? Come on

He did have his way with them. Saints had no answer to him running so why stop? That's a big part of his game just like Lamar and Kyler. Saints played Cam Newton for years, They knew what was coming and still could not stop it.

Outside of the fumble near the end that almost costed them, He played as perfect as you can ask a rookie QB to play given the circumstances.

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Just now, PriMeTiiMe said:

He did have his way with them. Saints had no answer to him running so why stop? That's a big part of his game just like Lamar and Kyler. Saints played Cam Newton for years, They knew what was coming and still could not stop it.

Outside of the fumble near the end that almost costed them, He played as perfect as you can ask a rookie QB to play given the circumstances.

Lol no.. he didn’t.. their run game did. 

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5 minutes ago, TheTrue7 said:

Lol no.. he didn’t.. their run game did. 

Who do you think was the reason for that? He had 106 yards on the ground himself. The 80+ yard Run by Miles Sanders was a read option that the Saints HAD to respect Jalen keeping. Go back and watch how Demario Davis is taken out of the play completely due to having to contain the outside in case Jalen kept it. Then go watch Kwon shoot the gap eyeing Jalen thinking he had kept it but then realized he didn't but by that point it was too late and Miles already had the angle to get past him. If Wentz was in that play its a 3 yard gain.

Having a QB like a Kyler, Lamar, Hurts, etc opens up the run game for everyone else. We all saw it with Vick for years.

Edited by PriMeTiiMe
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1 minute ago, PriMeTiiMe said:

Who do you think was the reason for that? He had 106 yards on the ground himself. The 80+ yard Run by Miles Sanders was a read option that the Saints HAD to respect Jalen keeping. Go back and watch how Demario Davis is taken out of the play completely due to having to contain the outside in case Jalen kept it. Then go watch Kwon shoot the gap eyeing Jalen thinking he had kept it but then realized he didn't but by that point it was too late and Miles already had the angle to get past him. If Wentz was in that play its a 3 yard gain.

Having a QB like a Kyler, Lamar, Hurts, etc opens up the run game for everyone else. We all saw it with Vick for years.

So now he gets credit for someone else’s run? Come on man.. he played well.. but over embellishing because of an agenda.. come on

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Just now, TheTrue7 said:

So now he gets credit for someone else’s run? Come on man.. he played well.. but over embellishing because of an agenda.. come on

Yes your right. Demario Davis was just sitting there locked into Jalen on the outside on a Read option play just for the heck of it. If Wentz or Ryan was in I am sure the LB would have to do the same thing. Kwon would be terrified for sure of those guys running and would never even look the RBs way.

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Just now, PriMeTiiMe said:

Yes your right. Demario Davis was just sitting there locked into Jalen on the outside on a Read option play just for the heck of it. If Wentz or Ryan was in I am sure the LB would have to do the same thing. Kwon would be terrified for sure of those guys running and would never even look the RBs way.

But the leading rusher who had two scores himself gets no credit.. got it

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Listen, like I’ve already stated, he played well. But if he “lit them up” like you stated, then how did he almost still lose the game for them, like you stated. I wouldn’t think someone, on their own, could light a team up, yet still almost lose the game. 
 

🤷‍♂️

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