The Atlanta Falcons had secured the NFC’s No. 1 postseason seed in the past with Matt Ryan, but 2012 was the first campaign where it was truly and completely on Ryan’s back. The fifth-year starter improved drastically with all the extra weight added.
Ryan’s previous career-high in pass attempts had been 571 and he upped that to 615 in 2012. The result: drastic increases from the previous year in completion percentage (61.3 to 68.6), yards (4,177 to 4,719) and at the cost of only two more interceptions (12 to 14). This with no real running game and an offensive line that couldn’t mount any push at all in short yardage situations.
Whether or not this ascension continues in 2013 will come down to if Ryan plays more like the quarterback who struggled in November and December or the leading NFL MVP candidate through the season’s opening half — or even better — the otherworldly passer who ripped the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers to shreds in the ensuing postseason.
I think it’s hard to expect anything from Ryan other than playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2013. Whether the stats hit new highs could be another story. Top receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White — the league’s best wide out tandem — don’t seem like candidates to drop off at all. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez is coming back for another go at the championship. Steven Jackson provides a much more versatile back.
But as Gonzalez told NFL AM, the big question is on the offensive line. Sam Baker and Justin Blalock return on the left side, but from center to the right it’s all new starters at the respective position. The team’s best lineman by miles, Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo, are both gone. The most notable situations being Peter Konz moving from guard to center and Matt Johnson battling for the tackle spot in Falcons training camp. Their performances could swing this unit from disastrous to decent.
“Our right tackle, Mike Johnson, he’s going into his fourth year and it’s time for him to step up; it’s time for him to go out there and claim that position for the next three or four years,” said Gonzalez. “If not, the competition is going to be open.”