NFC South: play-action passes

On Monday, I ran an item, with the help of ESPN’s Stats & Information, on how Atlanta had the league’s worst play-action passing game in 2009. I was a bit perplexed by that because the common perception is that a team with a running back like Michael Turner should be able to use the play-action game very well.

I asked for your theories on why the Falcons struggled in this area and you more than filled up the mailbag with what I think are some pretty solid explanations. Wish I could run them all, but we have space limitations. So I’ll go ahead and pick out five that I think could be close to the mark.

Hunter in Atlanta writes: Watching the Falcons passing game last year, it literally looked like 75 percent of the play action was a Matt Ryan fake to the RB, and then booting to his right in a one- or two-receiver route. The Falcons made a bunch of first down throws on that type of play last year and I think teams began to catch on as the season progressed. It was infuriating as a Falcons fan when they ran this play because eventually it became a Matt Ryan boot and run/throw it away. I don't know if this is the whole story, but it may have at least something to do with why the Falcons were so poor on play action last year.

Kendall in Gainesville, Fla., writes: I have a theory: A lot of the play-action that the Falcons run was bootlegging Matt Ryan out of the pocket. I, and a lot of other Falcons fans, noticed that Ryan's internal clock tends to speed up when he is flushed out of the pocket leading him to throw away a lot of balls. There is a lot of talk in the Falcons fan community whether this is a good trait or not. Either way, it does seem that Ryan is a little quick in getting those balls out, even when there is no apparent pressure on him.

Cory in Kansas writes: It has to be a tell by either a player or a coach on play calling in situational parts of the game. I saw this many times watching their games and the announcers, who were typically different most weeks, would also notice this.

Kevin in Chapel Hill, N.C., writes: First, the running game was not what it was the year before. Turner started slow, and then was hurt a lot toward the end of the season. Jerious Norwood was also banged up most of the year. Teams were not scared of Jason Snelling, so opposing defenses didn't have to focus on the run as they did the year before. Also, starting with the game against Dallas, the o-line struggled in pass protection compared to the year before. Injuries to Matt Ryan & some of the WRs didn't help either.

Andy in Atlanta writes: I personally think it just highlights even more Turner's importance to Atlanta's passing game as well as our running game.
Here’s a stat (courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information) that I find amazing when you consider that the Carolina Panthers have one of the league’s best backfields in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

When it comes to passing off play-action fakes, the Panthers do it a lot, but they’ve had very little success with it. Quarterback Jake Delhomme ranks 38th in the league among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 10 passes off of play-action with a 54.0 rating.

Delhomme has completed 42 of 75 passes off play-action for 534 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.

For context, New Orleans’ Drew Brees ranks 12th with a 112.9 rating. Brees has completed 57 of 86 passes for 728 yards off play-action with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has an 86.3 rating, which ranks him No. 26 and he’s thrown off play-action 63 times.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman hasn’t thrown off play-action enough to appear on the list yet, but the Bucs didn’t have much success earlier. Josh Johnson had a 59.9 rating while he was playing.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

I'm sure Mike Trgovac is all over this, but just in case, we'll send a long some friendly words of advice for the Carolina defensive coordinator.

Watch out for play-action fakes. When the Cardinals used them against Atlanta, they worked perfectly. The Cardinals were 8-for-8 on play-action passes. They also used three of those plays on the final drive to gain 63 yards.

Here's a look at what the Cardinals did with play-action fakes against the Falcons.

Kurt Warner on play-action vs. non-play action passes
 Play ActionNon-Play Action
Comp-Att 8-8 11-24
Pass Yds 121 150
TD-Int 1-0 1-1
Passer Rating 158.3 62.8

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