Falcons light it up with screen passes

Those of you that followed this blog in recent years know I frequently took the Atlanta Falcons to task for not using the screen pass more often.

That’s only because they deserved it.

In 2011, Matt Ryan completed 16-of-20 screen passes for 68 yards with no touchdowns. In 2010, Ryan completed 13-of-16 screens for 73 yards with no touchdowns. Over those two seasons, Ryan attempted fewer screens than any other quarterback to start the majority of his team’s games.

Well, the days of bashing the Falcons for not using the screen are over. They left with former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who is now the head coach in Jacksonville. New coordinator Dirk Koetter has added a few more screens to the playbook and he’s not afraid to use them.

I just looked at the latest packet from ESPN Stats & Information and it only confirmed what I thought I’d seen in the first three games. The Falcons are using the screen and they’re using it very effectively.

Ryan already has thrown two touchdowns on screen passes. That’s the highest total in the league. The first screen touchdown went to receiver Julio Jones in the season opener at Kansas City and the second went to running back Jacquizz Rodgers in Sunday's victory at San Diego. Ryan has completed all 10 of his screens for 66 yards. Ryan’s 82.4 Total QBR on screen passes is second only to Peyton Manning (87.0).

I’m not saying the Falcons need to go crazy with screen passes. Keep throwing three or four a game and it will only continue to open things up for the running game and for deeper passes.

Aside from Ryan, five other quarterbacks have had screen passes go for a touchdown this season. Carolina’s Cam Newton is one of them. Newton has completed 9-of-11 screens for 68 yards.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees, usually one of the league’s most accurate passers in any category, is near the bottom in completion percentage on screens. Brees has completed 7-of-10 attempts for 89 yards. Only three quarterbacks have a screen completion percentage lower than Brees.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has a decent percentage. He’s completed 6-of-7 screens (86 percent), but the Bucs have gotten virtually nothing out of those plays. Tampa Bay has gained only 28 yards on screens.