Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.
FLOWERY BRANCH – Matt Ryan is entering an important part of his career as an NFL quarterback. If preseason statistics are any indication – and they may or may not be – the Falcons signal caller is off to a good start.
In three exhibition games, Ryan has completed 45-of-60 passes (75 percent) for 549 yards (183 yards per game) with three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 112.4. His passing percentage, total yards, yards per game and 11 completions of 20 or more yards leads all quarterbacks this preseason heading into Sunday’s games. His rating and number of completions are second.
A sign of things to come this season? Stay tuned.
Falcons coach Mike Smith, while impressed with Ryan’s numbers, cautions that teams are not game planning during the preseason. The reads a quarterback must make are not as involved as they will be in the regular season.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez says Ryan, who is entering his fifth season, is making the proper strides in the progression of becoming a great NFL quarterback.
“For the average NFL football player it takes him about three years to really adapt to the game, the speed of the game, the understanding of the game, the X’s and O’s and the physicality of the game,” Gonzalez said. “For quarterbacks, it takes about five or six years before they really come into their own, from what I’ve seen. I’m talking about great ones too – Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady – to put up big-time numbers and not just win.
“I think that is what is happening with Matt here. He’s gone the normal progression and we expect big thing from him.”
Ryan and the Falcons have featured the passing game during the preseason. With the first-team offense on the field in the three exhibitions, the Falcons have thrown 60 times and ran just 32 times.
Smith again cautioned that the propensity to pass during the preseason is the nature of exhibition games.
“If you look statistically across the league there are more passes thrown in the preseason than there are runs,” Smith said. “People are working on different things. The skills that you have to perfect in the passing game are a little more intricate. You want to make sure you get your guys as healthy as you can to the first game and there is a lot of contact when you run the football.”
However, Gonzalez said the increase in passing “might be a “telltale sign” of things to come. It would be an increasing departure from the ball-control offense the Falcons have run the past four seasons. The evolution of the offense comes with the maturity of Ryan, a simplification and a familiarity of the offense for the quarterback and the adjustments made with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Still, the running game will be an important part of the offense, according to Gonzalez.
“It’s been a foundation of the Atlanta Falcons from before I got here,” Gonzalez said. “They like to pound the rock. But Matt is definitely having success with all the receivers. You want to be in a position where you can say [to the defense] ‘Do you want the pass? Or do you want the run?’ Let’s keep the defense on their heels and we’ll make the choice and let them catch up with us.”
The preseason is one thing. The regular season is another. But it is the postseason that really matters. The Falcons, with Smith and Ryan, are 0-3 in the playoffs. The offense failed to score in last season’s 24-2 loss to the Giants, the two points coming via a safety.
Ryan has been surrounded by offensive weapons such as Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Michael Turner and Gonzalez.
It’s time for the Falcons, with Ryan leading the way, to take that next step.
Gonzalez knows it.
“This is what you want to see, this is why he went No. 3 in the draft, this is why you have all these expectations and you’ve seen the upside of what he can do, this is what it can translate to,” Gonzalez said of his quarterback. “You are starting to see it come to fruition, especially with the players they’ve brought in here and the way he’s capable of slinging the rock around. This is where it should be. We’ve done it in the preseason. We’ve got to carry it into the season.”
Smith knows it too.
“Matt has, obviously, had his best preseason since we’ve been here. He’s distributed the ball to the wide receivers and the running backs. When he does that, we are going to have a chance to be successful.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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