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Film Room: How good is 37-year-old Matt Ryan?

Answer: The Colts have the best QB in the AFC South, again.

Another offseason is underway and the Colts annual quarterback search has come to a conclusion.

Earlier today, Chris Ballard sent a third-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan. The questions surrounding Ryan, who turns 37 in May, revolve around how much he still has left in the tank.

When looking at an aging QB, the two traits that are of most concern are arm strength and mobility. In 2020 we all witnessed a 39-year-old Philip Rivers lead the Colts to the playoffs, and he did so with every throw looking like Rivers was putting everything he had into it and he had the athleticism of your uncle after eating too much on Thanksgiving. Many people are worried, with good reason, that a 37-year-old Matt Ryan might be “washed up” or “over the hill”. Last night I started to wonder if that was the case and instead of just wondering, I threw on some film. These are the things you should know about Matt Ryan:

Mobility

Back in 2008 Ryan ran a 4.89 second 40 yard dash.

Today that number is no doubt slower and it wasn’t very fast to begin with, but if we’re asking Matt Ryan to run for 40 yards, ever, then everything has gone wrong. Instead, I was more interested in seeing if Ryan can move in and around the pocket to avoid the rush and extend plays. Here’s what I found:

After last season I forgot that quarterbacks were allowed to move outside of the pocket and throw accurately on the run. Kinda freaked me out at first.

Weirder things have happened in the NFL, but I don’t expect Matt Ryan to approach 100 rushing yards in any game, ever. With that said, he absolutely is moving better than Rivers did in 2020. But what about his ability to move in the pocket?

Unfortunately for Ryan, he got a lot of work moving in and around the pocket behind a terrible Falcons line:

The best part of this, and what you should expect from a former MVP, is the way he’s able to keep his head up and find the open receiver to pick up the first down. I won’t name any names but in recent Colts history we’ve had a QB who could have turned this into a sack-fumble while spraining both ankles... again, I’m not talking about anyone specifically.

Throwing on the run:

Matt Ryan, at 37 years old, is mobile enough to play quarterback in the NFL. He isn’t as athletic as Carson Wentz but that’s never been who Matt Ryan is. Instead he just isn’t a statue, he can move enough to ensure he can deliver an accurate pass in various scenarios and that’s good enough.

As I said, one of the biggest concerns of taking on an aging quarterback is his ability to move. In 2021, Matt Ryan demonstrated that not only could he move, he could do so at an adequate level with good footwork and on-target throws.


Arm Strength

Watching Philip Rivers throw a football in 2020 gave hope to weak-armed QB’s everywhere. Carson Wentz couldn’t hit a barn from 40 yards out, instead he might overthrow it by 20 yards on accident.

Matt Ryan is somewhere in between.

We can talk about the decision if you want but I want to focus on the throw itself. Ryan takes the snap, hits the top of his drop, steps up to his left, drives off his back foot and throws this one 50 yards in the air. He didn’t have to hop into it, he didn’t heave it wildly downfield. He threw it accurately, 50 yards before hitting his receiver in the hands (who was then leveled). Arm strength sure doesn’t look like a problem.

Throwing deep with some touch:

Here, Ryan likes the one-on-one matchup he has on the outside and throws up a deep ball to his (totally not a receiver) tight end, Kyle Pitts. Pitts is able to run underneath the ball and make the catch over the outmatched corner. This was an accurate ball that Pitts didn’t have to slow down for. Really good stuff.

Arm strength isn’t just about deep throws:

Here, we see Ryan is able to drive this ball into his receiver with enough velocity that the corner couldn’t break fast enough to get a hand on it and he was able to place it down-ish and away from 21 so that his receiver was the only one who could make the play. He protected both his receiver and the ball. Plays like this don’t make highlight tapes but if Ryan takes anything off of this ball or throws it inside or a little high, this would be included on the Lions highlight reel, for sure.

Falling away:

Here we see Matt Ryan drift away from pressure and throw it 20+ yards in the air. Throwing with good anticipation and fitting it underneath the deep safety. If you’re looking for “arm talent” this is it. He has to fit it in, but he can’t risk the linebacker undercutting it, and he threw this ball well before his receiver was open. Again, this throw might not make any highlight tapes but this was such a good ball.

Matt Ryan doesn’t have Patrick Mahomes’ arm, but he can make every throw on the field. He isn’t limited by a lack of arm strength and there’s no danger of needing someone like Jacoby Brissett to come in and throw a Hail Mary - Ryan can handle that himself.


Schematic Fit

The Colts passing offense under Frank Reich, is based around making quick reads, quick decisions and fitting the ball into tight spaces. When things are going the way Reich wants them to go, there will be a heavy dose of RPO’s which just so happen to blend perfectly with those quick decisions and tight spaces. So is this something Matt Ryan can do?

RPO:

The Falcons offense doesn’t live off of the RPO the same way the Colts offense would like to. With that said Ryan demonstrated an ability to make the reads and we know he can throw with the needed velocity to fit balls in tight windows.

Matt Ryan is not claustrophobic. Tight spaces:

Ryan trusts his (totally not a receiver) tight end to win against a defensive end, which is a smart bet. Beyond that he sees the linebacker fake the rush and drop into coverage, Ryan recognizes the ‘backer’s hips are turned and as long as the ball is thrown accurately and on time, the ‘backer can’t make a play on the ball. As I’ve now come to expect, Ryan sees all of it and delivers a perfect ball to Pitts for a nice gain over the middle.

Ryan isn’t just used to throwing into tight spaces, he thrives in them.

This next throw needed both angles:

Ryan starts his throwing motion with his receiver close to the numbers at the 40 yard line.

Right here Matt Ryan knew he was about to fit this ball between four defenders.

This is an impressive show of timing and anticipation. But check out this angle:

Ryan throws this ball while having to change his arm angle to prevent it from getting batted down.

And he still delivers a great ball.

I didn’t clip all of the checkdowns but this is such good news for everyone:

Matt Ryan loves, and I mean LOVES a good checkdown. It’s going to be so nice to see 2nd and 8 after Nyheim Hines catches a ball in the flat for 2 yards this season - I’m not even joking.


The Bad

Matt Ryan is human. All 32 starting quarterbacks are. So like the rest of them Matt Ryan is going to make some mistakes. I found five interceptions to show you, he threw a total of 12 in 2021.

On this one, rookie Kyle Pitts stopped his route short. It sure looks like Matt Ryan expected him to continue to the corner. It resulted in an interception for the Patriots.

Probable overthrow:

Here Ryan overshoots his receiver on the sideline. I say it’s a probable overthrow because Matt Ryan would never tell us if 17 ran his route at the wrong depth. The easiest explanation is that Ryan threw a bad ball (because he is human after all) and it got picked.

Rough day against the Bucs:

Sometimes Vita Vea just gets in the way.

Sometimes you just goof up:

I’ve settled on this being a bad decision. Even with better placement, that DB was in good position. Despite it being third down, Ryan should have just taken the sack. This is why pass rushers and offensive linemen are important. No QB likes to get hit, Matt Ryan is no different. Pressure creates mistakes.

This is how you know it’s just not going to happen for you today:

You’ll hear a lot of experts tell you that the best way to beat the blitz is to throw behind it - meaning right at it. A defender vacated an area of the field to rush the QB, so there will be a void in coverage. This is true, but you can’t throw directly into the outstretched arms of that blitzing defender or he might tip the ball to his buddy who will then disrespectfully score a touchdown, walking in backwards.

2021 saw Matt Ryan throw 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in a down year. Ultimately his bad plays failed to outshine all of the good he put on tape.


Final Thoughts

After watching the tape, I believe that Matt Ryan is far and away the best quarterback the Indianapolis Colts have had on their roster since Andrew Luck walked off into the sunset in 2019. The only problem with Matt Ryan is we won’t get another 10 years out of him. I’m not sure how many years he has left but I fully expect him to put the Colts in a position to contend in 2022.

Well, as long as Chris Ballard and his staff can bring in some playmakers on the outside. I wonder if Matt Ryan has any chemistry with free agent wide receiver Julio Jones?