Many have speculated about how the Falcons, and specifically quarterback Matt Ryan, will perform after leaving the warmth of their dome and heading up north to MetLife Stadium. After taking a deeper look, I found a statistical anomaly that could play into the Giants' hands.
First, I looked at Ryan's passing statistics, and was surprised to find that he actually has a higher QB rating outdoors (94.2) than indoors (91.1). His completion percentage is nearly identical in both settings, but his yards per attempt is considerably higher outdoors (7.75) than indoors (7.18). His touchdown to interception ratio is 3:1 outdoors, and roughly 2:1 indoors. So Matt Ryan is a better quarterback outdoors, right? Case closed. Everything’s wrapped up in a neat little package.
That all sounds nice until you realize that the five opponents the Falcons have played outdoors (Chicago, Carolina, Indianapolis, Seattle, Tampa Bay) own an average win total of 5.4 games and an average defensive rank of 21.8 out of 32. In other words, their outdoor schedule can be likened to the early “cupcake” portion of a Division I college team’s season. Against teams of this caliber, I would expect Ryan and the Falcons to play better even if the games were played on top of Eyjafjallajökull. Now, if they were significantly worse in any department against these teams, that would throw up a red flag.
Well here it is: Ryan has been sacked more than twice as frequently outdoors; the Falcons have allowed 13 sacks both indoors and outdoors, but have played six more games inside the cozy comforts of a weather-free dome. Atlanta is allowing 1.2 sacks per game indoors but 2.6 sacks per game outdoors.
So what causes this offensive line, normally one of the best in the league, to give up so many sacks when playing in fresh air? Perhaps those five teams the Falcons have faced outside of a dome are adept at rushing the passer...
Nope. Of the aforementioned five mediocre teams, exactly none of them rank in the top half of the league in sacks. In fact, the average ranking of these teams is 24.4 out of 32. This paints the picture of a team consistently struggling to pass protect in outdoor games, regardless of the opponent’s lack of prowess in that department.
The Giants, on the other hand, are known for their ability to rush, catch and squeeze the quarterback. Big Blue rank third in the NFL with 48 sacks, but that doesn't show how dominant their pass rush can be. When fully healthy, this defensive line causes opposing offensive coordinators to sleep with a night-light. And while they still may not be fully healthy, if they can maintain their performance level from the past two weeks (11 sacks), they can exploit this apparent flaw in the Falcons’ offensive line.
I won't act as if five games is a large enough sample size to make an all-encompassing statement about anything, and I won’t speculate as to why the Falcons’ offensive line has struggled to protect Ryan in outdoor games (OK, I'll speculate a little...maybe the ice in Ryan's veins, when not in the controlled climate of the dome, cause his hand to freeze on to the ball, rendering him unable to get rid of it in time). What I will say is that if this trend continues for a sixth game, there will be a lot of happy Giants fans come Sunday evening.