Leave Matt Ryan Alone. He is not the problem. Here’s who may be for the Falcons though

In a season with an assortment of stunning losses, incompetence and a complete disregard for running the football and finishing games, week 15 was almost the icing on the sad 2020 cake. At this point in the season, having blown leads in most of their losses, Falcons fans may be surprised to have seen Matt Ryan and the defense race off to a 17-point lead, but what came next was not as surprising as it was demoralizing, again. Who better to be the author of another blown lead than the man who dragged the Falcons on the grandest stage of them all, Tom Brady?

Skip this section if you have heard this one before: Brady is down at the half. The Falcons offense and defense are playing terrifically. The third quarter hits. Everything falls apart in a hurry. Brady marches down the field. The offensive coordinator fails at putting the team in a position to win. The defense is trying their best but their opponents, clicking on all cylinders, hopelessly outmatch them. Falcons lose.

There have been silver linings and good showings, but overall, they will be diminished by Brady torching the Falcons once more, with a week 17 matchup still looming.

Fight: Keanu Neal and Matt Ryan are the team’s best players on each end of the field.

We begin with the defense first. Yes, Atlanta’s abysmal play results from the unit as a whole, but Neal is not at fault for that. After missing the last two seasons with significant injuries (a torn ACL in 2018 and then a torn Achilles’ heel in 2019).

Neal has returned to form as a hard-hitting safety and has shown his willingness to hit with shots on Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette along with his 88 recorded tackles. Keanu is making a good case for the new regime, and that is a positive for him.

Now to Ryan. He is not the problem. The 35-year-old signal-caller may not have his MVP form anymore, but this team’s blame or the offense should not be on him. Ryan comes in day in and day out as a consummate professional giving his body for the team, and in return, he has fans doubting him.

Is he nearing the end of his career? Sure. Does his contract come with an enormous cap hit? Yes. But the 13-year vet has shown he can help the Falcons win if they can keep him upright, which is not a unique scenario, that is the baseline for most quarterbacks in the league. Do not doubt or give up on Ryan: we may miss his stability when he is gone.

Flight: Dirk Koetter and running backs, all of the running backs: These two go hand in hand. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is not helping himself or anyone on the offense, while Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith have not been doing a lot

Smith is thrown in by default and has been a decent option for Atlanta after the team named him starting running back last Monday. Everyone around the league knew Gurley would never be the same Todd Gurley that broke out with the Los Angeles Rams.

With his degenerative knee, there will be days that he just does not have that “it” factor in him. But missing protections and getting Ryan blown up, more than once, and being shown on the sideline laughing after that drive, not a great look.

The new regime will have to overhaul the running back room completely. One of the worst rooms in football, the Falcons rank 25th in rushing and 30th in yards per carry after week 15’s 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dirk Koetter, however, shares a large part of the blame. Asking your 13-year veteran quarterback to throw the ball as often as he does with no running game may find him not making it to the end of the season.

Anyone aware of Koetter will not be surprised by his failure to stick with the run. Combine the lack of production on the ground with the dreary production in general from the backs, and it is easy to see why the Falcons are 4-10.