It’s Time for Matt Ryan to Take the Next Step

For four years, Atlanta Falcons fans have watched quarterback Matt Ryan grow.  He’s taken baby steps in some ways, and huge strides in others.  But with a new coordinator, a full compliment of weapons at his disposal, and four seasons of NFL action under his belt, it’s time for Matt Ryan to breakout, take that next step, and lead Atlanta to another Super Bowl.  And make no mistake…Matt Ryan know this as well as anyone.

There are a few things that Ryan will need to do to move from being one of the better quarterbacks in the league to being one of the best, and take the Falcons from being just a competitive team, to being a feared one.  He needs to be a quarterback that defenses spend just as much time preparing for as they do his receivers and backs.  He has to be the reason the Falcons win playoff games, not the excuse as to why they didn’t.  The big question is, does he have it in him and can it be done?

I absolutely think he has it in him.  He’s shown in the past a flair for defense-deflating two-minute drills and dramatic wins.  There has never been any doubt of his competitive spirit, or his heart.  He’s got outstanding football intelligence, and likes being a student of the game.  All are things that point to someone who can break through whatever the conventional book on himself might be, and attain new heights.

His stats are fine.  His completion percentage has always hovered around 60%.  Nothing wrong with that.  The number of yards and  touchdown passes he’s thrown has increased year by year, as it should.  His touchdown and interception percentage rates are both exceptional, and his quarterback rating has gone up each year that he’s played.  He’s worked hard this off-season to increase his arm strength and improve on his deep passes, which will help out some of his speedy receivers.  But for Ryan’s success to translate into team success, there is an important stat that really needs to change.

Sacks.

Every year of his professional career, the number of times Matt Ryan has been sacked and the number of yards the Falcons have lost due to sacks has increased….and increased a lot.

In his 2008 rookie season, Ryan was sacked 17 times for a total of 104 yards lost, and a sack percentage of 3.8% based on pass attempts.

In 2011, Ryan was sacked 26 times for a total of 173 yards lost, and a sack percentage of 4.4% based on pass attempts.

Over the course of those four seasons, his number of dropbacks have only increased by about 30%, but the sacks have nearly doubled.  Not to mention, when you consider the average scoring drive is about 60 yards, that’s the total of nearly three potential scoring drives just given away by Atlanta in 2011.

OK yes, some sacks can be attributed to a protection breakdown, or just excellent coverage by the defense, but in watching tapes of Ryan against some of the better defenses in the league you see a quarterback who looks intimidated, hangs on to the ball too long at times, and makes some bad decisions.  Given his experience, Ryan has to be able to recognize dead plays, or be able to improvise on broken ones.

This year his offensive line will be better – much better – and his receivers are going to be considered among the best in the NFL.  It will now fall squarely on the shoulders of Matt Ryan to shake off some of the demons from past seasons, and take that next step to lead the Falcons beyond playoff haplessness.

In short…no excuses this time Matty Ice.  All eyes will be on you.


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