Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

24 Aug 2008

Falcons Will Start Ryan Over Everyone

Fresh off a 15-for-21 day against Tennessee, Matt Ryan has been named the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. In that game, Ryan showed efficiency and ball control (no interceptions, no fumbles, only one sack) but little actual production (6.8 yards per completion, for a piddling 4.9 yards per attempt).

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 24 Aug 2008

26 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2008, 6:53pm by Alex51


by Jesse (not verified) :: Sun, 08/24/2008 - 6:25pm

Because, as Kyle Orton showed us, how you play in the preseason reflects strongly on how you play during the regular season.

by Temo (not verified) :: Sun, 08/24/2008 - 7:19pm

1. Well, you can't argue that's its better for him to throw a bunch of picks in the preseason.

by MC2 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/24/2008 - 7:53pm

6.8 yards per completion? If that continues, they'll have to change his nickname from Private Ryan to Captain Checkdown.

by Dice (not verified) :: Sun, 08/24/2008 - 9:52pm

I thought that was Pennington's statline, but the YPA is too low...

by Soulless Merchant of Fear (not verified) :: Sun, 08/24/2008 - 10:05pm

So...the Falcons QB threw lots of pathetically dinky passes, to the point of absurdity?

Yeah, Mike Mularkey's the OC alright. Heh. I'm sure he talked a lot in the offseason about establishing a power running game and downfield passing. That way, Atlanta fans can be extra frustrated by the no-rushing, trick-play heavy, micro-dink-and-dunk pass-wacky offense that is the Mularkey Way.

No, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?

by t.d. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 3:39am

It's like a blueprint for how to destroy an organization

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 6:51am

Hey...this sounds familiar...
"Harrington was picked by the Detroit Lions with the third pick overall in the 2002 NFL Draft. Harrington immediately became the Lions' starting quarterback during his rookie season, finishing that year with a 50.1 completion percentage, a ratio of 12 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, and a decidedly subpar 59.9 quarterback rating; the Lions finished the season with a 3-13 record. Harrington went on to post some of the worst yards per attempt seasons ever by a regular QB. Among those performances were his 2002 and 2003 campaigns, the two worst YPA showings in the NFL or AFL since 1960 among QBs with 425 or more attempts in a season."

by Drew M (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:03am

I think Blank's true goal is to have his team score the number of points indicated by his last name.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:24am

Indeed... this seems like a moronic decision. I don't care if he's the best QB you have... The falcons are playing to win NEXT year, not THIS year.

Don't throw your rookie franchise to the wolves where he can develop bad habits/footwork etc. Harrrington/Redman are perfectly acceptable cannon-fodder for the first 6-8 games while Ryan gets used to the rigor and speed of the NFL. If you're really concerned about getting him playing time, you can throw him out in the 4th quarter when you're being blown out and the pressure is off (nothing like a prevent defense to build a QB's confidence).

Maybe Ryan will prove us wrong, but I never pictured him as such a sure-fire NFL star that he could transcend a couple months of seasoning... Instead, we'll now get Carr/Harrington version 2008. Bleh.

by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:37am

I've heard, and been convinced by, arguments that throwing a rookie out there to start his first year doesn't necessarily mean you're destroying his career. Remember Peyton Manning started his rookie year, and several big name busts (Carr, Boller) probably shouldn't have been as early picked or highly touted according to the Lewin projection system, and hence probably would have been busts whenever they started.

My personal feeling is that you can throw the rookie out there in his first year as long as (1) your O-line isn't completely horrible (known as the David Carr rule), (2) you have a good QB coach who works well with rookies, and (3) an offensive coordinator who's good at designing schemes that play to the strengths of his players rather than trying to force his players into playing the way that fits his preconcieved notions of the right way to run an offense (this is the single biggest sin in the league that characterizes bad coaches and coordinators).

I have no clue if the Falcons fit these criteria or not. But I wouldn't necessarily say its always a bad idea to start you QB of the future his rookie year.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:40am

Re 9:

I know the trend is to let rookie QBs sit for a year and learn, but he doesn't need it, he doesn't need it. There is no substitute for playing.

by langsty (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:43am

It is true that putting a rookie QB into situations where he can't succeed is akin to driving your new Ferrari down some country dirt roads. At the same time, Ryan is pretty clearly at an advanced stage in his progression (he understands fronts and coverages in a classroom setting and can apply his knowledge on the practice field) and all he has left is to get reps in live game action. He's also clearly the best starter at this point, and the Falcons aren't playing for a top 5 pick next year.

Also, the Falcons already have pieces in place to field a fairly competetive offense within the next couple of years. The defensive situation is much more miserable, talent-wise. My main concern wrt Ryan is, as poster 5 alluded to, Mularkey's crappy system. It was pretty eery to read Soulless Merchant of Fear's precise description of MM's MO (comes in promising power running and vertical passing, proceeds to institute bite-sized passing game)

by langsty (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 11:52am

Regarding starting rookie QBs, there really isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. There's a progression from understanding the pro game in a classroom setting, to then applying those recognition skills on a practice field, and finally to live game action. If you hurry along any stage of the development, you risk overwhelming your QB and setting them up to fail. And the speed at which these progressions are completed depends on the player; Peyton Manning was ready for live games before his first preseason was over. Most other QBs (the mere mortals) require a lot more patience while they develop.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 12:48pm

I think that you should just start him unless the O-Line is absolutely terrible. If the O-Line is absolutely terrible, you should be picking up free agent O-Linemen every week, and trying them out.

If he's good, he'll suck. If he's bad, he'll suck. If he's playing, he'll get used to it if he's good. If he's bad, he'd never get used to it, so get it over with now.

by MilkmanDanimal (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 1:40pm

Considering the quality of his offensive line, I'm hoping this doesn't head towards David Carr territory. As a Bucs fan, I appreciate the ability to watch a rookie QB get destroyed two games a year, but . . . this won't go well. When everybody sits up and says "Hey, Joey Harrington's a better option right now" that's kind of scary, right?

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 1:45pm

Throw the rookie quarterback out there. Manning, McNabb and Young managed just fine after playing on awful teams early on. I think we just like to make excuses when players we thought were good don't succeed. It's hard to play QB in the NFL. Deal with it.

If Ryan already looks better than Redman and Harrington, both of whom played fairly decently last year, then he's clearly learning well and deserves the chance to play.

David Carr's body got killed by his offensive line, but it was his own bad habits that killed his career as a quarterback. Either he wasn't coached well, or he's a really slow learner. When Kubiak took over the Texans, he was shocked at how many bad habits Carr had. (Things like staring down his targets without even making an effort to look off defenders.)

by Drew M (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 2:02pm

Is there a list, somewhere on this site, of how every rookie-year starting QB has done in his career?

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 2:31pm

Every QB is different, of course, but if you have a decent veteran (not only in terms of playing ability, but also in willingness to teach) it's awfully hard to argue with the Carson Palmer approach.

In Atlanta's case, wasn't Mularkey the OC for the 04 Steelers with Roethlisberger? If I'm remembering that correctly, then he ought to be able to handle Ryan properly. But also keep in mind that Ben R. was NOT the starter in week one.

by langsty (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 3:53pm

16: "Throw the rookie quarterback out there. Manning, McNabb and Young managed just fine after playing on awful teams early on."

Steve Young's actually a perfect example of how NOT to do it. Tampa Bay washed their hands of him after his second season, far too early in the development process to make a decisive evaluation.

by MC2 (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 4:28pm

#18: "In Atlanta’s case, wasn’t Mularkey the OC for the 04 Steelers with Roethlisberger? If I’m remembering that correctly, then he ought to be able to handle Ryan properly."

There's a BIG differnce between the talent that surrounded Roethlisberger his rookie year vs. the talent around Ryan now. If Mularkey tries to treat those situations as analogous, disaster (and hilarity) will ensue.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 5:42pm

ah, crap. Does anyone want my Chris Redman jersey?

by DEW (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 8:57pm

Well, I don't think anyone is arguing that Joey Harrington or Chris Redman actually gives the Falcons a better chance to win football games. The question is, will sitting or starting make Ryan a better quarterback next year and thereupon? Since there are examples up the ying-yang for all four sides of that argument, someone's going to have to bring some statistical progression to bear on it. But in Ryan's case, I strongly thing a second factor is involved: he's supposed to be the new face of the franchise in the wake of the Vick debacle, and you can't be the face of the franchise while riding the pine. So it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he was going to start unless he was completely incapable of handling the job AND they had someone who was actually better at it.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 8:59pm

avid Carr’s body got killed by his offensive line

Errrrgggggh. No, it did not. The Texans o-line got a much, much worse rap than it actually deserved because David Carr refuses to throw the damn football and runs like a headless chicken the second he notices his first option isn't open. David Carr just plain sucked from the moment he entered the league. He never had, and never will have, the slightest idea what to do with pass pressure.

And you can't really use Ben Roethlisberger as a point of comparison for anything.

I'm of the opinion whether you throw a quarterback out there as a rookie or not doesn't make much difference in whether he's going to make it in the NFL.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 10:27pm

23: Don't kid yourself, the Texans line was REALLY bad in the early years. Putting David Carr back there just contributed to the Megazord of sack-taking suckiness. The perception that the Texans threw Carr to the wolves is accurate - the perception that he could have been a better quarterback with better protection is probably not. Carr is an abominably slow learner and an even slower thinker. I'm with you in the belief that the good and bad QBs sort themselves out regardless of who gets started where and when.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 8:30am


By 2004 Inspector Gadget had taken his game north to Buffalo. Ken Whisenhunt was the OC. Batch was injured so it was a choice between St. Pierre and Big Ben which is really no choice at all.

by Alex51 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 6:53pm

With rookie QBs, it doesn't really matter so much whether you think they're better than your other QBs. If you're starting a rookie QB, and especially a top 10 pick, your team will suck, and your rookie QB will suck, almost always. Rookie QBs are unlikely to add wins to your team, so that's not really a concern. In deciding whether to start a rookie QB, you need to ask yourself why he's going to suck.

Is it because he's too careless with where he's throwing the ball, and hasn't really gotten a handle of the playbook enough to know where his receivers will be during each play, and so will throw a ton of picks? Then starting him probably won't hurt anyone. It won't exactly win you lots of games, but then, you weren't going to win many games anyway, and it'll help you evaluate your QB of the future, and figure out areas he needs to improve.

On the other hand, if your rookie QB is going to suck because he gets a deer-in-the-headlights look when something seems out of place, and will get sacked a ton, probably best to keep him on the sidelines for a while, work on his pocket presence.

Basically, if it's something that's going to get him hit an absurd amount of times, then yeah, starting a rookie QB is a bad idea. But there are lots of other ways your rookie QB could suck, some of which cause no permament damage. In that case, I see no problem with starting him, and getting a chance to evaluate his abilities/correct mistakes. Remember, the sooner you know what mistakes he makes against NFL defenses, the sooner you can teach him to correct those mistakes.