Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What's ailing the Falcons and Ryan? They're not as good on first down

We've spent much of the week discussing the Atlanta Falcons, who are 3-2 , and Matt Ryan, whose passer rating of 87.3 ranks 20th among NFL quarterbacks . (His rating last season, when he was MVP, was a league-best 117.1. His rating in 2008, when he was rookie of the year, was 87.7.)

And now, from Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, comes a stat-based look at why the Falcons are 3-2 and why Ryan hasn't been himself . The reason: first downs, and their failure to make as many.

Writes Greenberg: "The 2016 Falcons were forced into punting after just three downs once every seven drives (13.7 percent); that’s increased this season (18 percent). As a result, their scoring rate has dropped from 2.9 to 2.3 points per drive."

As for Ryan: "He averaged a robust 10.7 yards per attempt on first downs last season but is averaging just 7.9 yards per attempt in 2017. Ryan’s completion percentage on first down is 62.5 percent in 2017, lower than last year’s mark of 67.3 percent. He also threw just three first-down interceptions in 2016; he has three in 2017 and the season isn’t even half over."

Greenberg offers much more in this edition of his "Fancy Stats" column, which has long been one of the most edifying features on the Internet. (He addresses all sports, not just football.) I'd highly recommend you read the whole thing yourself. And I'll leave you with this:

A week ago, we noted that the Falcons, who were then 3-1, were ranked 13th in the NFL by Football Outsiders' DVAO (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings. This week? They're No. 17 . The offense ranks fourth, the defense -- ouch -- 27th. If there's a sliver of good news, it's that New England, which the Falcons play Sunday night, is only the 15th-best team.

Less-good news: Football Outsiders assigns the Falcons only a 21.6 percent chance of winning the NFC South , behind both Carolina and New Orleans.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.