Matt Ryan Trade: Matty Ice Will Have a Late-Career Renaissance in Indianapolis

Just when it appeared as though the Indianapolis Colts had all but squandered max cap space and failed to make an upgrade under center, they acquired Matt Ryan in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons. There’s reason to feel skeptical about the move. There’s also evidence to suggest Ryan is about to have a late-career renaissance.

The greatest quarterback in Falcons history is coming off perhaps the worst season of his career. Ryan amassed the lowest total QBR mark (46.1) of his esteemed career and tallied the fewest adjusted net yards per pass attempt in a single season since 2013.

However, the Colts are a better team than the Falcons in the trenches and employ a more balanced offensive scheme in an effort to establish the run. Those are critical changes, ones that should help Matty Ice discover his old form as he prepares to begin a new chapter in Indy.

Matt Ryan goes from (almost) worst to (almost) first in the rushing department after trade to Colts

Effective rushing attacks take some of the pressure off quarterbacks and set up play-action. While those things rarely worked effectively for Matt Ryan and the Falcons last season, he should have more success in his first go-around with the Colts.

Whereas Atlanta ranked 29th in rushing attempts and just 31st in rushing yards, Indianapolis ranked fifth and second in those categories, respectively. As good as the hyper-versatile Cordarrelle Patterson was for the Falcons, he’s no Jonathan Taylor.

Patterson averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season (YPC). By comparison, Taylor — who led the NFL in rushing yards — averaged 5.5 YPC and a league-best 106.5 yards per game. The Colts will pound the pigskin, which should set Ryan up to do his thing in play-action.

Despite Atlanta’s struggles running the ball, Matty Ice still ranked sixth in play-action pass attempts and eighth in yardage on that play type. Interestingly enough (or maybe not), former Colts quarterback Carson Wentz ranked above him in both attempts and yards. That indicates that Indy could run even more play-action with Ryan, whose aptitude for play-action makes Indy more dangerous and could ultimately benefit Taylor and the rushing attack.

The veteran signal-caller will also find more opportunities to make reads on run-pass option, though he’s not the same mobile threat as a guy like Wentz and can’t necessarily rely on his escapability to avoid sacks. On that last note, though, Ryan again is about to enter a friendlier situation.

Ryan will line up behind one of the best O-line units in football

Matt Ryan took at least 40 sacks in each of the last four seasons with the Falcons. He was sacked an NFL-high 48 times in 2019. But he likely won’t take as many hits in Indianapolis.

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Atlanta ranked 29th in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency. Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield had one of the worst pass-blocking grades of any lineman in his class. How sweet it will feel for Ryan to go from lining up behind one of the worst-performing left guards in football to a generational All-Pro in Quenton Nelson.

The Colts actually ranked behind the Falcons in pass-blocking efficiency last season (30th), per PFF. But that doesn’t account for Nelson playing hurt essentially all year and Braden Smith playing just 11 games.

Fisher and Mark Glowinski are gone. The Colts need some reinforcements. Still, with Nelson, Smith, and Kelly up front, the foundational pieces are in place.

Additionally, Ryan can help negotiate pass-blocking issues. He has more success with quick-hit passing options across the middle and in the seams than Wentz, who could get caught holding the ball for far too long as the pocket collapsed around him.

The Colts possess decent weapons and figure to add more

Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws a pass during a September 2019 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts
Matt Ryan throws the ball during a game against the Indianapolis Colts on September 22, 2019 | Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It’s worth remembering that Ryan spent nearly the entirety of the 2021 season without No. 1 wide receiver Calvin Ridley. He threw to an unproven group of Falcons pass-catchers, though Russell Gage had another solid season and Kyle Pitts realized his potential early.

Indianapolis does not have a generational tight end like Pitts, though Mo Ailie-Cox is a big and athletic target in the red zone. The Colts do have a mix of intriguing playmakers, however. Michael Pittman Jr. is coming off a 1,000-yard season and has emerged as a true No. 1 talent. Parris Campbell has only played 13 games in three NFL seasons, but he’s an absolute burner with enticing potential. Plus, the Colts are trying to bring more receivers to Indy.

Both Pittman and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard have already begun recruiting former Ryan teammate Julio Jones. Although durability has been an issue for Jones, his talent and upside are hard to deny, and he could thrive playing alongside Matty Ice again. The Colts also figure to use some of their selections on pass-catchers in the upcoming NFL Draft. The talent will come.

Many likely look at the Matt Ryan trade and simply label the 36-year-old as over the hill. But he’s in a far better situation in Indy. Not to mention, the Colts had one of the better defenses in football last season and just added Yannick Ngakoue to the pass-rushing mix.

Everything sets up nicely for Ryan to prove doubters wrong and make the Colts legitimate Super Bowl contenders once again.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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