The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a last second come from behind win against the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons sit at 4-0 on the young season, and fifth year starting quarterback, Matt Ryan is getting a lot of credit for it. NFL pundits are starting to rave about the “new, more mature” Matt Ryan. But I am not so sure this the progression you would expect to see from a quarterback going into his fifth year. In fact, I think Matt Ryan is regressing. And that is a good thing.
Echos of 2008
On Sunday, September 30, 2012, I sat in the same seat that I have for years. With 50 seconds left in the game, the Carolina Panthers downed a punt on Atlanta’s one yard line. The Falcons were down 28-27 with no time outs. But I could not help but feel confident that the Falcons had the game won, because I had been there before.
In 2008, Matt Ryan engineered a miracle against the Chicago Bears. (You can read my article on the game here.) Then-rookie Matt Ryan made an amazing throw to set up the game winning field goal. The aim and decision making of that throw far exceeded my expectations. So when Matt Ryan took the field with the game on the line against the Panthers in 2012, I already knew it could be done.
Through four games in 2012, Matt Ryan has only two interceptions compared to 11 touchdowns. Yet Matt Ryan is taking more chances with his throws. Even after throwing an interception against Carolina, Matt Ryan completed several key passes in tight coverage. There is more zip on his ball as he throws with more confidence.
Matt Ryan had a reputation as a gunslinger while in college. In his rookie season, Ryan was often put into situations where he had to make a play after rushing plays on first and second down. He wowed the league with his poise in those pressure situations. In 2012, Ryan is showing that same poise.
Proof is in the feet
There is no greater proof that 2008 Matt Ryan has returned than when watching Ryan run with the ball. During a huge game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, Matt Ryan put his body on the line trying to rush for a touchdown. His leaping body was smashed by a Minnesota defender, and Ryan fumbled the ball as he spun in the air from the impact. Atlanta recovered in the end zone and went on to win the game.
From 2009 to 2011, Ryan’s rushing attempts grew more awkward. He seemed unsure of himself, and his slides became premature and somewhat goofy looking.
The 2012 season has seen a far more willing Matt Ryan emerge. Not due to happy feet, as his seven sacks in the Carolina game would attest to. Instead, Ryan is willing to take running lanes when the defense gives them. His slides are more last second, and he is gaining extra yards. Ryan has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2012. This is a huge jump from the previous four years, where he averaged 2.1 yards per carry.
Atlanta Falcons OC Dirk Koetter has finally provided Matt Ryan with a wide open game plan. (You can read my article on it here.) The addition of screen passes and running back involvement have made Ryan far more efficient. Through the first four games of 2012, Matt Ryan has posted an incredible 112.1 quarterback rating. In 2008, coaches raved about Ryan’s ability to learn the playbook and control the no huddle offense. Koetter’s new playbook seems to finally have given Ryan enough weapons to truly fulfill the promise he showed in 2008.
Christopher Beheler is a Georgia native and lifelong Atlanta Falcons fan.