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Bair Mail: In defense of Matt Ryan, Mike Davis help and strength of schedule silliness

Your questions get answered in Scott Bair's mailbag


Welcome back to Bair Mail. Long time no talk.

What has it been? Like, 48 hours since the last installment? Y'all missed me, I know.

Wait a second...Y'all? Only three weeks removed from California and I'm already saying it. Wow. That happened fast.

Anyway, as y'all can tell, we're going to make this Q+A a regular thing. Maybe three times per week if y'all -- Okay, I'm done. Even starting to annoy myself. -- keep the good questions coming.

There's plenty to discuss on this fine Wednesday, the eve of Arthur Smith’s first AT&T Training Camp practice as Falcons head coach.

Let's get right to it:

Tim Thornton from Farmville, Va.

Why do you think so many Falcons fans are down on Matt Ryan? I've been a fan since the Steve Bartowski days, and Ryan is the best QB in team history. I don't understand the haters.

Bair: Neither do I, Tim. Neither do I.

The guy has been as steady as it gets. He has missed three starts in 13 seasons. He has an MVP award. He's 113-92 as a starter. He has at least 4,000 yards each season over the last decade. Oh, and he has staged 30 fourth-quarter comebacks and 38 game-winning drives.

What more do these detractors want? Don't scream in response, haters. That was rhetorical. I know you want a Super Bowl Ryan hasn't delivered. I know you don't want a fourth straight losing season. You want a clear vision and succession plan at quarterback. What you think you've got is a 36-year old and no obvious quarterback of the near or distant future.

What you really have: A darn good quarterback under center.

The Falcons are convinced he has still got it. So am I. They're focused on putting a better team around him than in years past. The fact he had 600 attempts was a sign the Falcons weren't very good. He has crossed that threshold seven times. The Falcons have finished .500 or worse in six of those seasons.


In short, give him a steady line and efficient rushing attack before claiming he's washed.

And, even if you can't be swayed, consider this aside. I covered the Raiders for the eight seasons. Before Derek Carr, they couldn't find a quarterback to save their lives.

Case and point:

Quarterbacks for both franchises since 2008:

Raiders: Derek Carr (110 regular-season games started), JaMarcus Russell (26), Carson Palmer (24), Jason Campbell (18), Terrelle Pryor (10), Bruce Gradkowski (8), Matt McGloin (7), Charlie Frye (3), Matt Flynn (1), EJ Manuel (1), Andrew Walter (1), Kyle Boller (1)

Falcons: Matt Ryan (205), Chris Redman (2), Matt Schaub (1)

Which 13-year strech would you rather have? There's only one answer here, even from the illogical who can't appreciate all Ryan has done and will do.

The Falcons quarterback situation has been as stable as it gets, and can remain so for years if Terry Fontenot drafts the right guy at the right time. The Falcons could have a Manning-Luck type of transition that keeps top talent in the game's most important position while building up the roster around him.

Mac Martin from Houston, Texas

What is the plan at running back? I like Mike Davis a lot but there are not a lot of know quantities behind him on the roster.

Bair: Good thing you like Mike Davis a lot, Mac. You're going to see him a lot, especially on early downs. This is a golden opportunity for the Atlanta native to start a season as the feature back. It'll mark the first time he's ever done that after working behind the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Chris Carson.

That said, don't expect Davis to take a Derrick Henry type of workload. Head coach/offensive play caller Arthur Smith will spread the rock, using Cordarrelle Patterson out of the backfield as more than just a gadget player.

This is also an important season Qadree Ollison, who could earn a role in the rotation with a solid camp.

Also keep a close eye on undrafted runners Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley. They'll see tons of work in practice and preseason games, with a real chance to earn carries in the fall. The Falcons are intrigued by both young players. If they develop quickly, they might see action or, at least, offer decent injury protection behind Davis.

Atlanta Falcons players arrived on Monday for 2021 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.

David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa

The Falcons finally have a favorable strength of schedule. Do you believe this indeed help us or is a stat with no merit?

Bair: Boy am I glad you asked, David. It also me to go on a rant and rail against one of my least favorite metrics, and there are a lot of crappy ones out there.

Here we go. And, yes, I'll keep the expletives out of this: Sure, the Falcons have the third easiest strength of schedule. Their 2021 opponents had a .454 winning percentage last season. Big whoop. This isn't last season. How many teams go from worst to first, or at least pretty solid, from one year to the next? How many good teams lose a key cog and completely fall apart?

There's one answer to both questions: A bunch.

That's why I hate putting Ws and Ls next to each game right after the schedule release. It's a way to pass the spring time, nothing else. There's no way of knowing how teams will turn out before they take a meaningful snap. There are too many variables involved, too much injury risk in this game we all love, to assume anything in the NFL.

And, even if you think I'm completely full of it (the line starts behind my wife), there's another problem assuming strength of schedule will help your team. Teams within the same division are almost always bunched together!!!

Let's use the NFC South as an example. The Falcons have the third-easiest strength of schedule. The Super Bowl champion Buccaneers are one spot below them. The Panthers are four back and the Saints eight back. The difference between the Falcons' and Saints' strength of schedule: .029. If that's not negligible, I don't know what is.

Why are they so close together? Because scheduling isn't random. the entire NFC South plays the entire NFC East, which stunk to holy heck last year. And the entire NFC South also plays the entire AFC East, which, outside of Buffalo, totally stunk last year.

So, in sum, yeah. I don't put much weight in strength of schedule. Never will.

A call for more questions

And that'll do it for my first Bair Mail-bag, like ever. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I liked writing it. Let's keep it rolling and make these a regular thing. Submit your questions here and they could get answered in the next installment.

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