Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 11d

Falcons' Matt Ryan 'a little off' but needs to find his MVP touch

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't look like the reigning MVP halfway through the season, and he knows it.

A guy with a reputation for pinpoint accuracy is noticeably off, part of the reason a team predicted to be the one to beat in the NFC, coming off a Super Bowl appearance, doesn't even look to be playoff-caliber right now.

“I think there's been some good, and then I think, like I've said, I think there've been some missed opportunities as well,” Ryan said during his weekly radio show on 680 The Fan. “I feel like we're really close to making these plays and to putting up a lot of points than we are far. And I feel the same way for myself.”

Through eight games, Ryan is 177 of 270 for 2,157 yards with 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 92.8. The Falcons are averaging 21.3 points per game, which ranks 17th in the NFL. He's lost three fumbles and absorbed 14 sacks.

Through eight games last season, Ryan completed 193 of 279 passes for 2,636 yards with 19 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 115.8 as the Falcons averaged a league-best 32.8 points per game. He was sacked more times last season at this point (20) and had one lost fumble.

The Falcons were 5-3 at the midway point last season with the arrow pointing up after a 33-32 win over Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, although a humbling loss to Philadelphia followed two games later. This season, they're 4-4 with the arrow pointing down following a 20-17 loss to Carolina in their first division clash.

“You can tell he's just a little off on his throws,” said one assistant coach who faced Ryan this season. “I saw the same thing on film when I studied the tape -- just a little off. But that's still a dynamic offense with him running it. They're going to be dangerous on that turf at their stadium.”

The Falcons are back at home Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys (5-3) after playing the previous three games on the road and going 1-2. Perhaps playing four of the next five at home will help them regain some of the swagger from last year's Super Bowl run.

Ryan refuses to compare this season to last year, when he thrived under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. But he's struggling to find consistency under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and it's worth noting that Sarkisian is in his first season calling plays in the NFL.

Part of the drop-off has to do with Ryan not working much with injured receivers Julio Jones (foot surgery) and Taylor Gabriel (lower leg injury) leading into the season. Part of it has to do with being without starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) for two games. Part of it has to do with dropped balls or poor routes run by receivers. Part of it has to do with being one-dimensional at times and neglecting the running game. And part of it just had to do with playing tough defenses, particularly Carolina, Buffalo and Miami.

Ryan talks every week about being solid in the red zone and on third down. In the “red area,” he's completed 19 of 39 passes for 110 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception while being sacked three times. Ryan is completing 48.7 percent of his red-zone passes coming off a season where he set a career-high in that category with a 66 percent completion rate. His career average in the red zone is 56.8 percent.

On third down, Ryan is completing 58.7 percent of his passes after completing a career-high 71.2 percent of those passes last season. His career average on third down is 62.7 percent.

And, as Ryan says weekly, the Falcons need to create more explosive plays. Ryan is 6 of 17 (35.3 percent) for 202 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 76.1 on throws 20-plus yards down the field. Last season, Ryan completed 20 of 35 (57.1 percent) of such passes for 720 yards with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 141.4.

All that being said, the Falcons still stand sixth in the NFL in total offense at 372 yards per game and are second in the NFL with an average of 6.17 yards per play.

“The ball has been moved up and down the field,” Ryan said. “To me, the issue is more with when we've had our chances, when we've had those scoring opportunities, those chances to stick the dagger in them, we just haven't done it.”

Maybe that will all change in the second half of the season.

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