Matt Ryan isn’t a long-term solution, but he’s exactly what the Colts need right now

The Colts quarterback’s situation has been maintained by spit and glue since the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck. First, replacement Jacoby Brissett was thrust into a starting role. Then Philip Rivers took the Colts to the playoffs in his only season in Indianapolis, which was his 16th and final season in the league. Last season, the Colts thought they had a long-term solution after trading for Carson Wentz, but that experiment fell through. This season they will look to 37-year-old Matt Ryan, who they hope will provide them with some short-term stability.

Can Ryan still lead a team to the playoffs or has his game diminished too much?

Ryan is three seasons away from a 35 touchdown season and is coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his career in 2021. Last year was Ryan’s first season in the system. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, and he had one of the worst offensive lines in the league (he allowed 200 pressures). He also didn’t have many reliable weapons to throw. Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Ridley pulled out of the team after five games to deal with mental health issues. Ryan’s main target was therefore rookie Kyle Pitts, who had flashes of brilliance but also bouts of inconsistency. Upon closer examination of the movie, however, Ryan should easily be the most productive quarterback the Colts have had since Luck.

Ryan can still throw with zip and has more escape than you might think, but most importantly, he’s so refined at the art of playing quarterback. With the Colts – and how they can direct the ball with Jonathan Taylor – Ryan has a chance to revitalize his career in heavy offensive play, throwing the ball to big targets like Michael Pittman Jr.

Week 13, 15:00 remaining in the second quarter, second and 5

Here, the Falcons conducted play action with an offensive left sail concept, with Pitts running the sail.

After a solid fake play, Ryan went down, the final leg of his fall ending just 8 yards from the line of scrimmage. His eyes fell on Pitts, his first reading. He saw Pitts gain outside leverage against cornerback Carlton Davis and knew he would go for it.

Davis had tight coverage, but Ryan was still able to get over him in a small window. The pass was perfect, but Pitts let it down.

Despite the Falcons’ personnel issues, Ryan finished ninth in passers on setbacks with game action. He’s comfortable turning his back on defense and throwing the ball on pace. With the threat of Taylor carrying the ball and a better offensive line, Ryan could be even more effective in throwing play action next season.

For an older quarterback, Ryan is surprisingly good under pressure despite seeing a lot behind Atlanta’s leaky offensive line. He maneuvers the pocket well, has enough agility to escape from time to time, and throws with precision while running.

Week 13, 2:55 p.m. remaining in the second quarter, third and 10

Here, Ryan’s first read was the deep OTB (over-the-ball) of the slot.

On a seven-pitch drop, Ryan’s final step hit directly 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. If he was deeper, he might have been sacked, but because his footwork was precise, the left tackle was able to get the defensive end past Ryan.

The defense was in zone 3 coverage and the hook defender fell just over the OTB route.

Ryan had a free rusher in the middle, but he managed to break the tackle and slip out of the pocket to his left. As he escaped, he kept his eyes down and looked at his checkdown to the left. This drew the defender flat to the checkdown, creating an opening for the slot receiver to slide behind the slot.

After breaking the pocket, Ryan hit the slot machine catcher for an explosive play.

Ryan never had the strongest arm, but he was an effective deep ball thrower due to his aggression, anticipation and accuracy. Due to these traits, he can always attack in the field when the opportunity arises and he has time to throw.

Week 15, 8:28 remaining in third quarter, second and 16

Here, the Falcons had a concept called “Mills” on the left, with the outside receiver running a deep post and the receiver inside him running a dig route.

The defense was in quarterback coverage, meaning if both receivers ran vertically, the corner would lock onto the outside receiver and the safety would lock onto the inside receiver. As soon as Ryan saw the safety nail driven in on the inside receiver, he knew he had an outside one-on-one and immediately began his throwing motion.

As the outside receiver circled his head, the ball was already in flight. Ryan dropped the ball just in time but still took a hit on the throw.

The balloon traveled 50 meters in the air and was completed. Although he didn’t hit his receiver in stride, he had room for error due to how quickly he read the defense and dropped the pass.

Ryan had one of the best seasons of his career in 2018 at the age of 33. Physically, he doesn’t look much different than he did that year. He could have been a little faster, but running was never his game. With a stronger supporting cast than he’s had in years, Ryan looks like he could have a solid bounce-back season.

Although this is Ryan’s first season with Frank Reich, the Colts head coach is quickly putting quarterbacks at ease by building up the offense with plays his quarterbacks are comfortable running. The Colts’ left tackle situation is shaky, but their inside offensive line is much stronger than the Falcons’ – Ryan won’t have to deal with as much inside pressure and will have room to step up. As mentioned, Ryan helps his attacking tackles with consistent, disciplined footwork. Last season, Ryan threw perfectly placed passes into tight windows that receivers failed to catch. With the Colts, he should benefit from throwing to bigger targets like Pittman and second-round pick Alec Pierce, who turned heads at minicamp. While Ryan isn’t a long-term solution, his skillset is a good match for what Reich wants to do on offense.

(Top photo: Stan Szeto/USA Today)

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