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Matt Ryan: The Positive Outlook for His Below Average Yards Per Attempt

Matt Ryan has led the Atlanta Falcons to a 10-2 start with some clutch play, efficient performance on third down, and by being very good at avoiding negative plays.  He is currently below the league average in yards per attempt.  Such a fact would probably lead many to conclude that statheads who rely on yards per attempt couldn’t distinguish their yard marker from their abacus, which many are rumored to possess but which in actuality are usually stored away in a box in their mother’s basement.

I believe that yards per attempt is a good statistic, and if we had to pick just one thing to look at, it would probably be most useful.  However, we don’t have to pick just one.  There’s more to the Matt Ryan story.  If we consider sacks (which I think we should with quarterbacks), then Ryan has been very good at avoiding them, which already moves him up the charts.  Then, if we consider the completion percentage, well, he is more likely to make some positive plays, and when coupled with a good running game, increases the chances of third down conversions.  Then, turnovers, especially interceptions.  Ryan is very good at that too, and coupled with the lack of sacks, is not costing his team.  Finally, touchdowns, and Ryan is completing an above average percentage of his passes for scores.

What we have then, is a bit of an anomaly.  A player who is slightly below average category (albeit typically a very telling one), but above average in every other base indicator of quarterback play, and as a result, above average overall.  One of the things I like to do is look at players who are similar to these kind of combinations, so in this case, I went looking for other quarterbacks who were below the league average at yards per attempt but above average everywhere else.  The results should be encouraging to Atlanta fans.

Here are all other players since 1970 to throw at least 350 passes in a season, were below average at YPA and above average at everything else.  I ordered them in terms of player age, because I think that is important here.  The five “Advanced Passing” columns are in order: completion percentage, yards per attempt, td percentage, int percentage, and sack percentage.  A score of 100 in a category is league average, and higher is better.

Advanced Passing
Player Year 5 Age Tm
Drew Bledsoe 1996 24 NWE 109 96 105 112 113
John Elway* 1984 24 DEN 101 94 106 103 113
Brett Favre 1994 25 GNB 113 98 123 111 108
Tom Brady 2002 25 NWE 110 90 111 115 111
Matt Ryan 2010 25 ATL 107 93 106 118 117
Tommy Kramer 1982 27 MIN 104 91 108 105 106
Gary Danielson 1978 27 DET 112 96 113 104 108
Jim Kelly* 1987 27 BUF 116 94 104 119 108
Richard Todd 1981 28 NYJ 101 89 110 124 108
Drew Brees 2007 28 NOR 124 98 103 104 124
Joe Ferguson 1980 30 BUF 107 87 104 105 126
Bubby Brister 1993 31 PHI 102 88 110 127 106
Jeff Garcia 2002 32 SFO 110 92 101 123 123
Danny White 1985 33 DAL 113 99 106 104 111
Brett Favre 2002 33 GNB 110 99 114 105 113
Peyton Manning 2010 34 IND 115 99 103 102 127
Dan Marino* 1998 37 MIA 104 95 103 106 118
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The only other young quarterbacks who showed a similar profile to Matt Ryan are Drew Bledsoe, John Elway, Brett Favre and Tom Brady.  Those other four young QB’s averaged 10.5 wins, which suggests that just looking at yards per attempt wouldn’t tell us the whole story because of their efficiency elsewhere.  The Tom Brady year (2002) was actually the only one that he missed the playoffs, while Favre also went 9-7.  Bledsoe’s team went to the Super Bowl that season, while the Broncos went 13-3 but were upset at home in the playoffs during Elway’s similar season.
Thus, when we look at this list and many of the names on it, we see that a slightly below average yards per attempt, when coupled with efficient play everywhere else, isn’t necessarily a negative indicator for Matt Ryan.
[photo via Getty]

 

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