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How good is Matt Ryan according to the numbers?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Back at it again Colts’ fans! A new starting quarterback for next season for the 6th consecutive year. After trading away Carson Wentz to the Commanders (still not used to writing that), the Colts were left with a vacant spot at the game’s most important position of all. The options supposedly on the market were not that enticing after Deshaun Watson was traded to the Browns. It was either trading for Jimmy G, who will not be able to throw a football for 4 months, and would have probably costed more than Ryan, or signing either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston as free agents. Either that or a rookie quarterback from a draft where the Colts have no 1st round pick and there no blue-chip talents at the position. Ballard managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and got Ryan, who on paper already looks much better than Carson.

Now I believe that both the eye-test and the numbers are key for evaluating a quarterback. Using one or the other exclusively would be leaving out major parts in evaluating a signal caller. As for the eye-test, there have been two articles I have really enjoyed on film about Matt Ryan. One by our very own Chris Shepherd, where he breaks down film from Ryan’s years with the Falcons, and the other by Zach Hicks, where he breaks down Ryan’s mobility in the pocket and disproves the narrative that Ryan will be a statue in the pocket.

First of all, let’s take a look at how Matt Ryan ranks among other quarterbacks for what are in my opinion the most indicative set of stats for quarterbacks:

Matt Ryan over the years

Year EPA + CPOE Composite TWP % YPA QBR (ESPN) DVOA (FO) Passes 20+ Yards AYPC
Year EPA + CPOE Composite TWP % YPA QBR (ESPN) DVOA (FO) Passes 20+ Yards AYPC
2021 21st 15th 18th 23rd 21st 15th 11th
2020 19th 12th 15th 17th 15th 5th 3rd
2019 15th 19th 13th 14th 14th 15th 7th
2018 4th 11th 5th 9th 4th 7th 8th

Glossary: EPA + CPOE = Takes into account the expected points added and the completion over expected. TWP % = Turnover worthy plays %, basically how many of Ryan’s plays should have resulted in a turnover. YPA = yards per attempt. QBR = The ESPN quarterback rating, in my opinion the most flawed out of these statistics. DVOA = This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. Passes 20+ Yards = Passes over 20 yards. AYPC = Air Yards per Completion, how many air yards his completions had on average.

Now what are the numbers telling us? At first view, we can see how Ryan had an elite 2018 season, before starting to regress year after year up to the point where we are today. Now this is why just looking at the numbers can be a very complicated subject and why statistics can be so easily manipulated into painting a story that might not be entirely true. This is why it is of utmost importance to be able to look at the full picture. Look at how bad Ryan’s offensive line and running game have been in Atlanta since that 2018 season.

We also have to keep in mind how Ryan was without his top weapon Calvin Ridley this season, and how he had no reliable target other than Kyle Pitts. His best wide receivers were Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe. Taking a deeper look into the context we can analyze how Ryan’s numbers started to drop with a more informed eye. While his play certainly has regressed a bit, and he is not the same quarterback he was in 2018, he has not been nearly as bad as his numbers would suggest and one has to take into account how good Ryan was when he had a proper running game behind him, which he will certainly have with the Colts, who ranked 1st in expected points added per run, and how he will have an offensive line that can actually block for him. Ballard would be wise to get more playmakers at receiver for his new quarterback, and this could become a very dangerous offense.

All in all, this is one of the many times where the numbers are misleading, and fail to paint the entire picture. My belief is that while Ryan has regressed a bit, it was mostly exaggerated because of the terrible offensive line in front of him, the lack of weapons in the passing game, and the lack of a running game. Sherpa and Hicks made an amazing job at showing that Ryan still has the tools to be an efficient NFL quarterback. He has the mechanics, he has the experience, he has the accuracy, and most important of all he is a great leader and locker room presence. With the Colts, Ryan will have the best running game in the NFL. an above-average offensive line, and hopefully some better weapons at receiver. I really like the move, and I think that Ryan gives the Colts much better play at quarterback than Carson, and his leadership and accountability will be a breath of fresh air for the locker room.