Vivlamore reporting from the Georgia Dome.
Matt Ryan is not concerned with his status among NFL quarterbacks.
When asked prior to last season whether he was an elite quarterback, the Giants’ Eli Manning said he thought he belonged with the best of those currently in the game. Despite an impressive start to this season, Ryan won’t make such a declaration.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ryan said following Thursday’s exhibition game against the Bengals when asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution if he thought he was among the upper-echelon of quarterbacks in the league. “It doesn’t matter what I think or what anyone else thinks. It matters how we win. That’s where my focus is. Other than that, I don’t really worry about it too much. I don’t think about it. I don’t worry about it.”
Ryan begins his fifth season as the Falcons install a new offensive scheme. Through two exhibition games, he has completed 27-of-34 passes (79 percent) for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. All this as the first-team offense has run a total of 48 plays – 70 percent passes – in games against the Ravens and Bengals.
Ryan completed his first 11 passes in Thursday’s 24-19 loss to the Bengals, including all nine first-quarter attempts. He completed his first six attempts in last week’s loss to the Ravens. In each game, the Falcons held the lead when the first unit departed.
You can count Tony Gonzalez as one willing to make a proclamation about the status of Ryan.
“He’s always been a really, really good player but I think he’s starting to make that jump to becoming a great player and one of the upper echelon players in the league,” Gonzalez said. “I think that comes with maturity and the simple state of mind offense that [new offensive coordinator] Dirk [Koetter] brought in here coupled with the players he has around him. Now with him as a fifth year player in the NFL, I think he’s starting to become the player he can be and the guy that we’ve seen a lot of but now we’re going to see it a lot more consistently.”
Ryan’s 27 completions this exhibition season have been thrown to nine different receivers: Julio Jones (9 receptions), Roddy White (8), Michael Turner (3), Gonzalez (2), Mike Cox (1), Jacquizz Rodgers (1), Michael Palmer (1), Harry Douglas (1) and Lousaka Polite (1).
On a second-quarter drive Thursday, the Falcons never had a third down in a nine-play, 88-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown pass to Polite. Ryan was 7-for-8 for 74 yards. The only miss was a deep pass intended for Jones that snapped Ryan’s streak of 11 straight completions.
Ryan said the early look at the Falcons’ new offense doesn’t mean the season will rest on his right arm.
“I think last year in preseason game number three against Pittsburgh we threw it like 40 times in the first half,” Ryan said. “That’s just the nature of some of the things we are trying to work on to get better for the regular season. I wouldn’t buy too much into it.”
So, are the Falcons still a run-first team, the staple of Mike Smith’s tenure as coach?
“Score points [that] is our Falcons’ offensive identity,” Ryan said. “Preseason you work on some different things and we’ve been trying to get comfortable with different things.”
With the first-team offense, the Falcons have run the ball only 30 percent of the time in two exhibition games. They have a total of 152 yards on the ground – 81 against the Bengals and 71 against the Ravens. Turner has just 14 yards on eight carries.
Ryan was 18 of 21 for 174 yards against the Bengals in almost a half of play before making way for Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson and Dominique Davis. Smith and Ryan both credited the offensive line with much of the passing success. Ryan said he has yet to be hit despite the propensity to pass.
“For me, I’m just trying to make good decisions and be accurate with the football,” Ryan said. “I have really talented wide receivers and tight ends and my job is to try to get them the ball in a good spot to make a play with it. That is where my focus has been at and I’m going to try to keep it there.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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