Matt Ryan's New Deal Puts Steve Sarkisian In Crosshairs
by DS WilliamsonShowing incredible trust in their quarterback this off season, the Atlanta Falcons handed Matt Ryan a 5-year/$150 million contract. The contract eclipses the deal that Kirk Cousins signed to play for the Minnesota Vikings by $15 million, with Ryan securing $100 million in guarantees against Cousins' contract, which is fully guaranteed for $85 million. For very obvious reasons, the Falcons have faith in Matt Ryan. That’s why the person on Atlanta’s hot seat this season is offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Steve Sarkisian Hasn't Matched Kyle Shanahan In 2016, the Falcons fielded an unstoppable offense, that was piloted by Kyle Shanahan. Ryan threw for 4,944 yards and 38 TD's, while completing passes for an average of 9.3 yards per. Julio Jones caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and 6 TD catches. Running back Devonta Freeman averaged 4.8 yards per carry on his way to 1,079 rushing yards. He also caught 54 passes and scored 13 combined touchdowns. In other words, the Falcons were feasting.
It's easy to forget all of this because the Atlanta Falcons ended their incredible 2016 campaign with a brutal, historic meltdown in the Super Bowl where they froze up and allowed Tom Brady to engineer the greatest comeback in NFL history. That loss overshadowed all of the success that the team enjoyed. People barely remember that Matt Ryan was the MVP that season.
However, the impact allowed Shanahan to parlay his proven success in to a head coaching job for the San Francisco 49ers, clearing the way for Steve Sarkisian to take his place the following season. Surely, a productive and potent offense could stay the course despite a change in signal callers.
While 2016 produced a great story for the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, 2017 turned into a disaster. Ryan’s 2017 numbers point to a quarterback in decline: 20 TD passes, 12 interceptions, and a 7.7-yards per pass completion. The franchise didn't hold dips in production against their two stars. Atlanta not only re-upped Matt Ryan, they also handed Julio a massive contract that pays him $71.256 million for 5 years. Jones got a $35.5 million check upfront.
By signing their stars to big deals, Atlanta has sent a subtle message to their staff. The stars will be taken care of, but Steve Sarkisian is now the scapegoat if things go south in the Dirty South.
Where Steve Sarkisian Must Improve Sark did well to put Atlanta’s offense into scoring position throughout the campaign last year. The Falcons averaged 3.4 red zone scoring attempts per game, the 6th highest mark in that vertical across the league. But, Atlanta only averaged 21.6 points per game, which was literally league average. The Falcons went from the highest scoring offense in 2016 to 15th in the league in 2017.
Atlanta can’t waste red zone opportunities this season. Steve Sarkisian must call the correct plays that get the Falcons into the end zone. Luckily for Atlanta, they might have just come up with a tweak that helps their offense add close to a TD to their 2017 per game average.
Throughout last season, Sark sat up in the booth, looking down on what was happening in games. This season, Sark has moved to the sidelines where he's admitted that he's more comfortable. Quarterback coach Greg Knapp will move up in to the booth instead, and relay information to his offensive coordinator, creating a different flow and feel for how plays are called in Atlanta.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single, small, tweak to put a struggling offense back on track. If the tweak doesn’t do the trick, head coach Dan Quinn will know that he must change offensive coordinators. Sark’s story, coming back from alcohol addiction, is great. But, this is the NFL. Quinn won’t hesitate to fire Steve Sarkisian if the offense blusters its way to 21 points per game in the Falcons first three matchups.