Matt Ryan leads the NFL in the following categories:
- Touchdown Rate, at 6.8%
- Yards per Attempt, at 9.3
- Adjusted Yards per Attempt, at 10.0
- Yards per Completion, at 13.3
- Passer Rating, at 115.5
- Net Yards per Attempt, at 8.21
- Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, at 8.90
Ryan also ranks 3rd in passing yards and 3rd in passing touchdowns, despite leading in the rate versions of those categories, because Ryan only ranks 18th in pass attempts, and that’s despite not missing any games. The Falcons rank 27th in pass attempts. The Falcons rank 12th in rushing attempts, but only rank 25th in total plays.
Why is that? Well, Atlanta only ranks 27th in offensive drives. And why is that? One reason is that the Falcons defense isn’t good at getting off the field. The Falcons defense is allowing 6.1 plays per drive, at a 2:45 minute clip per drive, and resulting in 2.18 points per drive. All three of those metrics place Atlanta in the bottom quarter of the league, as does Atlanta’s 41.6% third down rate. Even worse, the Falcons have the worst red zone defense in the league.
The Falcons have also scored 5 return touchdowns this year, which negated five potential possessions for the offense. But there’s another reason Atlanta has so few drives and plays this year: the offense is really, really good. Just 55 drives have ended in a punt or turnover this year, the fewest in the league. The Falcons are also the only team to have over half of its drives end in a score. If Atlanta had more three-and-outs, they’d have more drives and maybe more plays, but completed passes keep the clock running.
If the Falcons had a better defense, Ryan would probably have more pass attempts this year, and he might be producing some better raw numbers. If he had 5,200 passing yards, it would be clearer to the average fan that this is a historically great season. And because Atlanta tends to run near the goal line, the team ranks 3rd in rushing touchdowns, which depresses Ryan’s touchdown totals (though provides some assistance to his yards per attempt numbers). Instead, we have to focus on his rate numbers. So, which league-leading rate number is the best?
- Touchdown Rate, at 6.8%. This would actually be the lowest touchdown rate to lead the league since 2009. It’s unusual to lead the league with a touchdown rate of less than seven percent, so while it’s impressive, it’s hardly historically noteworthy.
- Yards per Attempt, at 9.3. Nick Foles was at 9.1 in 2013; Aaron Rodgers was at 9.2 in 2011, as was Peyton Manning in 2004. There may not be a large practical difference between 9.1 and 9.3, but it is historically noteworthy: since the NFL merger, just three quarterbacks have averaged 9.3 yards per attempt in a season on at least 150 passes: Ken Stabler in 1976, Chris Chandler in 1998, and Kurt Warner in 2000. None of the had even 350 passes, while Ryan is at 498 entering week 17. From a pure yards per attempt perspective — albeit without adjusting for era — Ryan’s season is remarkable. Among quarterbacks with at least 450 pass attempts since the merger, Ryan stands atop a number of other historically great seasons.
- Adjusted Yards per Attempt, at 10.0. Ryan has an awesome TD rate, but not an absurd one. His INT rate is very good, at 1.4%, but doesn’t crack the top five even in just 2016. As a result, adding in more variables to yards per attempt is only going to hurt Ryan, though a 10.00 AY/A average is hardly unimpressive. It would have been enough to lead the league in each of the last ten years, save Foles in 2013 and Rodgers in 2011. But his yards per attempt average is so dominant that Ryan is still only the 3rd player since 1970 to crack double digits in AY/A on 450+ passes.
- Yards per Completion, at 13.3. In this era of declining yards per completin averages, Ryan’s 13.3 stands out as great. But it would still be very low by typical standards: the previous five leaders were all over 13.5.
- Passer Rating, at 115.5. Ryan’s 115.5 rating ranks as the 5th best in NFL history, although you need significant era adjustments here. Honestly, I think we are at the point where we should expect the passer rating leader to crack 110: Tom Brady is at 110.7 this year.
- Net Yards per Attempt, at 8.21. Ryan’s sack rate is not great, so he will necessarily fare worse here than in yards per attempt. Still, at 8.21, that’s remarkable: in the last 10 years, only Rodgers 2011 — at 8.22 — can top that.
- Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, at 8.90. This is the king of our traditional passing stats. At 8.90, this still stands out as a historically great year. Yeah, his sack rate isn’t great, and his TD and INT numbers aren’t off the charts good. But this still ranks as the 4th best (5th if you include Foles) average since 1970 among passers with at least 450 attempts.
In the end, what’s really driving it is Ryan’s remarkable yards per completion average while still completing 69.5% of his passes. Even with a 200 pass attempt minimum, among all players with an average of at least 13 yards per completion, Ryan’s completion percentage is over a full point ahead of the next best player (Rodgers 2011), and 1.5% above everyone else. From a Pareto Efficiency standpoint, Ryan looks pretty impressive when it comes to completing passes (without adjusting for era) and completing them for a lot of yards (again, without era adjustments).
Ryan will be the 5th person since 1970 to have his completion percentage rank and yards per completion rank (min 14 passes per team game) equal 4 or less. The first four? Kurt Warner in 2000 and 2001 (1st in both metrics, both years), Tony Romo in 2006 (2nd in both), and Manning in 2004 (3rd in completion percentage, 1st in yards per completion). It’s been a remarkable year for Ryan.