Matt Ryan must beat blitz on third down

Monday night on ESPN, the New Orleans Saints will square off against the Atlanta Falcons in a game with massive NFC playoff implications. While the Saints have dominated the series 11-2 dating back to 2006, the Falcons are looking to avenge their Week 10 overtime loss to Drew Brees and company.

A key situation in which Matt Ryan must excel in order to beat the Saints is handling added pressure, specifically on third down.

ESPN Stats & Information

Roll over each receiver to take a closer look at Matt Ryan’s favorite third-down targets.

The Saints send five or more pass rushers 54 percent of the time, more than any other team in the NFL. On third down, Gregg Williams’s defense dials up the blitzes even more by sending five or more rushers 60 percent of the time (eight percent more often than the next closest team, the Denver Broncos).

Not only do the Saints like to bring the heat, they happen to be very good at it. They've recorded 21 sacks this season, second-most in the league, and they hold opposing quarterbacks to a 45.0 QBR (10th best in the league). Comparatively, when they’ve sent four or fewer pass rushers, they’ve recorded only six sacks (the fewest in the league) and have allowed a 66.9 QBR (20th in the league).

Saints’ Defense on Third Down
By Number of Pass Rushers (NFL Rank)

The differences are even more drastic on third down.

However, Gregg Williams may want to reconsider sending additional pass rushers on third down because Matt Ryan has had success this year when dealing with pressure.

Ryan ranks in the top 10 among quarterbacks this season in QBR (67.8), yards per attempt (8.0), yards (1,259), and completions (92) when facing five or more rushers. And the pressure has not been getting to him as he has taken only four sacks, tied with Matt Hasselbeck for fewest in the league.

On third down, Ryan gets even better when facing pressure. Not only is he tied with Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning for the most passing first downs with 28, but he is also second in the league in completions (33), fourth in yards (455), and tenth in yards-per-attempt (8.1).

When facing four or fewer rushers on third down, Ryan’s numbers are much more pedestrian. He averages 1.4 fewer yards per attempt and has been sacked a league-high 13 times. All three interceptions Ryan has thrown on third down this season have been when defense drop seven or more into coverage.

The Saints effectively contained Ryan in their previous matchup, however his QBR was 47.2 points higher against added pressure. Ryan must replicate and improve upon that effort on Monday, as he’s sure to face plenty of pass rushers.