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Packers Were Waylaid by… Kyle Shanahan

A lot of analysis was wasted in the lead-up to the NFC Championship game. There was so much non-relevant chatter: about the Falcons’ two exciting running backs; about the Packers’ great offensive line; about the health of the Packers’ receivers; about the need for a better pass rush by the Packers. None of it mattered a whit.

Here’s what mattered: Matt Ryan’s passing prowess, the Falcons’ receiver talent, the Packers’ woeful defensive backs, and the Falcons’ passing scheme.

Matt Ryan was great, as he’s been all season, which is why he’ll win the NFL’s MVP award.

Julio Jones proved yet again he’s the league’s best receiver.

The Packers’ pass coverage was no better, nor worse, than it was for most of the season. It just looked worse because a top-notch offense exploited it more devastatingly than did other teams.

That leaves the Falcons’ passing scheme as a final factor to be considered.

Kyle Shanahan Arrives in Atlanta

Kyle Shanahan is a man going places. At age 37, he’s been in the NFL since 2004. After jobs with the Bucs and Texans, he became the Redskins’ offensive coordinator in 2010.

Then came a rough patch. He and his father, coach Mike Shanahan, were fired by the Redskins after the 2013 season. Kyle then moved on to the Browns, but he resigned after one year after disagreeing with the front office’s insistence that rookie Johnny Manziel be the starting QB.

He was quickly nabbed by Atlanta, where he’s been the offensive coordinator for the past two years.

While Matt Ryan has been a good quarterback since joining the league in 2008, he has only achieved greatness under Shanahan’s guidance. After never having a triple-digit passer rating in a season, Ryan busted out with a rating of 117.2 on the year, the fifth highest seasonal rating since the formula was made the NFL’s official QB rating system in 1973.

In his two recent postseason games, Ryan has upped the ante: 125.7 against the Seahawks and now 139.4 against the hapless Packers.

The Ryan-Shanahan pairing seems a match made in heaven. The key feature of this West Coast offensive variant is the quarterback’s quick delivery. Atlanta has an endless array of pass routes, and they’ve been known to have as many as 13 players catch Ryan’s throws in the same game.

The Falcons’ pass attack resembles some of the greatest ever: the Chargers with Dan Fouts (especially 1979-1983); the Dolphins with Dan Marino (much of the ‘80s and ’90s); the Rams with Kurt Warner (1999-2001); and Peyton Manning with the Colts (2003-2010) and the Broncos (2012-2014).

Obvious advantages to schemes like Shanahan’s are that sacks are avoided (the Packers had none), the quarterback is seldom hit or injured, and completion percentages tend to be high (71 percent against the Packers). The main disadvantage is that there is (usually) little time to make long throws.

Somehow, however, Matt Ryan wound up with the league’s highest yardage per attempt during the regular season, at 9.26. Only two others averaged over eight yards per attempt: Tom Brady (8.23) and Kirk Cousins (8.11). Before Shanahan arrived, Ryan had never averaged eight or more yards per attempt in a season.

I think that the coming together of a fine veteran quarterback, the best receiver of the last five years, and the genius of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme is the primary reason Atlanta is going on to the Super Bowl. It’s the scheme, as much as the Atlanta players, that sliced and diced Green Bay.

Before you bet your life savings on the Falcons, however, be aware that the woefulness of the Packers’ defensive secondary gave the impression that Ryan and company are even better than they really are.

Finally, this looks to be a short-lived relationship. Shanahan has been in the conversation to become the head coach of several teams. His next game will probably be his last with Atlanta and Matt Ryan. It’s been reported that Shanahan has already accepted the San Francisco 49ers head coaching job.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Putin's Orange Puppet January 23, 2017

    The real purpose of this article appears to be to take credit away from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and all the other Falcons players and coaches other than Shanahan because you can then say Shanahan is leaving. This is just a big steal credit thing.

    Yes, Shanahan is very good coach and deserves a head coach position. But, guess what? Ryan and the Falcons will still be great next year even without him and they will still be a better team than the Packers.

    Yes, Shanahan, like every offensive coordinator, made some difference. But the Falcons clearly would have won this game even without him. He had nothing to do with shutting down the Packer run game or ls to just 21 points, some of them garbage type points. To say is was the offensive scheme as much as the players is a real discredit and quite a falsehood.

    All of Shanahan’s plays are used by other offenses and all are legal in the NFL. He literally is not doing ANYTHING brand new. (You mean, you mean, you mean, they let the QB THROW the ball? Though the AIR? To OTHER players? Is it even LEGAL?) It is not a new or different scheme. It is the players executing the plays better because they are better.

    What next? Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks only due to scheme? He does not deserve credit?

    1. I Steal Fish January 23, 2017

      the entire first half of this article spoke about how great matt ryan was and how great julio jones was. it just simply pointed out that the x factor in how great they are now is a bright offensive mind. how is anyone being discredited here?

      1. PF4L January 23, 2017

        You’ll have to excuse him, he’s still “hurting”.

  2. KILLER January 23, 2017

    I think I need to weigh in here.

    Ryan’s career QR rating average is 93.6 including this season in the totals (excluding play off games). Ryan has had a career no-one-could-ever-doubt-or-possibly-suggest-competition-for-MVP-or-all-will-know-they are-a-dolt season.

    Ryan played in Shanahan’s magical scheme last year and this year. Same coordinator, same plays, mostly. His QB rating was 89 even. Less than his average. Did anyone say Shanahan’s magical schemes were holding him back, limiting him, or praise be Shanahan for reducing Ryan’s QB rating?

    Shanahan is a good coordinator and does deserve some credit, of course. Just like Aaron Rodgers, all the Packer players, and all the Packer coaches, and TT all deserve some credit for the embarrassment of the title game.

    But here is exactly what Rob wrote:
    “It’s the scheme, as much as the Atlanta players, that sliced and diced Green Bay.”
    He cuts the credit in half and gives half of it to Shanahan who was not even on the field! Half for Kyle and half for the 11 starters and 7 or so critical role playing subjects to fight for crumbs over. Rob then goes on to steal EVEN MORE credit by dissing the Packer secondary (granted, Packers have one of the worst secondaries in football, but the Falcon’s performance vs. other secondaries was very similar). Rob’s last paragraph seems to delight and reassure the Packer faithful that the Falcons success will be short lived as Shanahan will be moving on after this season.

    Remember, he deserves half the credit! If Rob’s claim is true he will be proven correct if, with the QB, RBs, WRs, and o-line all remaining healthy next year but without Shanahan, their offense drops from scoring 33.8 points per game to 16.9 points per game and from 415 yards per game to 208. We’ll see if it is half, Rob.

    As per the infamous Shanahan “scheme”. You list what it is:
    “sacks are avoided”? Hey, I like that scheme. Let’s all just decide to do that.
    “quick delivery” Yeah, Dan Marino had a quick delivery too. Damn that Marino and his cheating scheme.
    ” an endless array of pass routes”? Did Shanahan fail to take or abide by that oath all the other members of the offensive coordinator club take to limit their array of pass routes? Who learned, mastered and executed these endless routes? Who ran them on the field? Did they stay in bounds and abide by the rules?

    That is a crazy ass scheme that obviously deserves half the credit for the Falcons success!

  3. KILLER January 25, 2017

    Another thought occurred to me. If the false and ridiculous premise that it was Kyle Shanahan’s scheme as much as the players (as much as = 50/50) that sliced and diced the Packers actually were true then the Falcons — if they had no offensive coordinator at all and just played — STILL would have beaten the Packers 22-21 !