ATL News / Sports

Matt Ryan: Offensive line more important than wide recievers

The Falcons season finale against the Saints won’t be Matt Ryan’s last game in a Falcons uniform. What would have been the biggest story in Atlanta heading into the offseason has been put to bed before the 2021 season even ended. According to Chris Mortensen, Ryan will be Arthur Smith’s quarterback in 2022.

Smith has been consistent in his sentiments regarding the veteran quarterback. The first-year head coach came to Atlanta with high praise of Ryan, and it seems those feelings haven’t changed.

In the first season of this head coach and quarterback duo, Ryan had one of the worst statistical performances of his career. Granted, this was the first season in a decade that Ryan didn’t have Julio Jones, and he also didn’t have Calvin Ridley for more than half of the season. Still, the offensive line is equally responsible for the underwhelming output.

There is a clear direction for the franchise: to continue to build around Matt Ryan to make an eventual Super Bowl run. Obviously, the Falcons are a long way from that.

The defense needs to be completely overhauled. Dean Pees specifically mentioned they need to be able to rush the passer without bringing pressure and play better man coverage on the backend. Experience will help the younger players, but there needs to be an infusion of talent as well. The offense is closer to a finished product than the defense, but as a unit, there could be upgrades across the board. And there could be a lot of personnel turnover at wide receiver and tight end. 

Olamide Zaccheaus (57% of offensive snaps), Russell Gage (56%), and Tajae Sharpe (47%) could all leave this offseason; in terms of the percentage of snaps played, the Falcons’ top three receivers will all be hitting free agency. The trio accounts for nearly 80% of all snaps by receivers. Lee Smith (31%) and Hayden Hurst (40%) are also not under contract in 2022.

Matt Ryan could be throwing to some very different faces next season. So should the Falcons bring back Zaccheaus, Gage, and Sharpe, or should they bring in another free agent off the street? Could they potentially bolster the receiving core through the draft? Everything is really possible, but the offensive line must be addressed even if the entire starting group is returning next season.

With so many positions to bolster on defense, the offense’s needs may be put on the backburner. More than likely, where the Falcons will bolster the roster through the draft will come down to how the board shakes out, given Terry Fontenot’s best player available drafting philosophy.

The offense may not be able to fill all of the holes, but if there has to be one area the front office decides to bolster, should it be on the boundary or in the trenches? Well, Matt Ryan isn’t mincing words on the topic — it’s the offensive line.

On an episode of Off The Record, Ryan was asked which is more important — offensive line or wide receiver? “No doubt,” Ryan emphasized in his answer that the big uglies up front are more vital. After taking so many hits these past few seasons, it is easy to see why Ryan would say this. If the Falcons listen to what he has to say as the Packers and Buccaneers have with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the offensive line could look much different in 2022. They’re one of the worst units in the league, so maybe an infusion of new faces could benefit Ryan, the offense, and the team as a whole.

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