Ryan measures up in ways most quarterbacks don’t

It's not the arm or the legs that make the quarterback: It's the stuff you can't measure, like what's in his head. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It's not the arm, the size or the strength that make an NFL quarterback: It's all of the stuff you can't measure -- liike what's in his head. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

There always has been something different about the quarterback position, something that can’t be gauged by height or weight or speed or strength or the ability to throw a football 70 yards past the cows, over the barn, through the tire screen and into the feed bucket (when, by the way, just hitting the open tight end over the middle would’ve been fine).

If quarterbacks were measured by physical skills, Jeff George would not have been a cartoon and Joe Montana would not have been a deity. If quarterbacks were measured by fast legs, chiseled abs and ripped biceps, NFL general managers — the experts — would not draft so many colossal busts, crippling their franchise, alienating their fan base and ultimately ensuring their own unemployment.

The Falcons got it right with Matt Ryan. One player. One pick. One decision. Just like that, the owner, the general manager and the coach all look brilliant.

Ryan and the Falcons play a nationally televised game in Dallas Sunday. They are 4-1 this season and 15-6 in 21 regular season games since selecting Ryan third overall, and the biggest question now is what the two players taken ahead of him can do to avoid winding up as an answer on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card.

Tony Romo, the Cowboys’ quarterback, has talent. What he has lacked is the stability, leadership and that does-he-even-care-that-he’s-standing-barefoot-on-hot-coals coolness that Ryan exhibits.

Matt's Ryan's ability to lead under pressure far outweigh his physical attributes, which also are pretty good. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Matt's Ryan's uncommon ability to lead under pressure far outweighs his physical attributes. (Curtis Compton)

Falcons players who are eight, 10, 12 years older than Ryan are following him. Why? Because leadership comes naturally to him. They sense it, they embrace it and, as center Todd McClure said, “When he says something, you just do it. I can’t explain it. But it’s been that way since he got here.”

Nothing fazes Ryan. His teammates and coaches take turns gushing about his presence, maturity and work ethic. Troy Aikman, a Hall of Famer, says things about Ryan that he won’t say about the quarterback for his former team in Dallas. Tony Dungy likens Ryan to Peyton Manning, his former quarterback in Indianapolis and a Hall of Famer in waiting.

“When I look at quarterbacks, I always look at intangibles first,” Dungy said by phone. “You have to have intelligence and poise under pressure. Ryan has that. Peyton’s ability to remain calm as a young guy stood out more than anything.”

I had to ask Ryan: Has he ever been fazed by anything? After the expected golly-gee-juiced responses, he finally recalled an incident his sophomore year in high school in Philadelphia.

“I had done something in a game that I wasn’t supposed to do, I think on third down, and I was a little more hot-headed than I am now,” he said. “I came off the field. I thought I was right, but I was told by my coach that I should’ve done the other thing. I said, ‘Well, that would’ve made only five yards and I’m trying to make a first down.’ And I got put in my place pretty quickly after that. I learned to keep my mouth shut in those situations.”

Asked what his coach said, Ryan laughed. “The exact quote’s not for print,” he said. “Something to the extent of, ‘You let me coach. You play. If you keep doing that, you won’t be on the field.’ I believed him.”

He was 16. Imagine if we all learned our last lesson at that age.

Tony Gonzalez, in his 13th season, said Ryan has been unlike any quarterback he ever has worked with, adding,”You forget he’s only in his second season.”

Last season, we forgot about youth quickly. He threw a touchdown on his first NFL pass.  Four weeks later in Green Bay’s historic Lambeau Field, Ryan led the team to three scores on the first four possessions and a victory. One notable moment came during a TV timeout, when McClure made the mistake of asking the rookie, “What’s the next play?” Ryan, McClure said, “just snapped [and said], ‘Wait! Hold on a second!’”

“He gets in the moment. He gets in the role. You’d think he’s been playing for 12 or 13 years. The funny part is, everybody expects it.”

These are the traits that can’t be measured before a draft. This is where stopwatches and barbells won’t help.

170 comments Add your comment

Sonny Clusters

October 23rd, 2009
4:11 pm

If it was really ” One player. One pick.” Bobby Cox would be in the World Series with all that picking.

Sonny Clusters

October 23rd, 2009
4:11 pm

We was first. Big deal.

Larry

October 23rd, 2009
4:12 pm

And….he’s a good person from solid parents!

keep it real

October 23rd, 2009
4:13 pm

barring injury, ryan will be even more amazing next year. –can you even imagine how sick this kid’s gonna be in year number four? atlanta got really lucky with this one.

keep it real

October 23rd, 2009
4:15 pm

Enter your comments here

Falcon's Fan

October 23rd, 2009
4:16 pm

GoodTraction

October 23rd, 2009
4:17 pm

Sonny – Did you know Brooke Hundley when you was at Parkview?

dawgdan

October 23rd, 2009
4:22 pm

It’s columns like these that make me very happy that Mark Bradley is such a homer. The three-headed monster that is Dimitroff, Smith, and Ryan have pretty much brough Atlanta football back from the dead.

Dawgmess

October 23rd, 2009
4:23 pm

I just hate that Ryan is not a product of the SEC.

What's Important

October 23rd, 2009
4:24 pm

Amen brother, testify!

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 23rd, 2009
4:29 pm

Matty’s string of pass attempts w/o a sack shows he gets the battle-war comparison. It’s his defense reading that’s beyond his years.

As long as he stays healthy the sky is the limit, including this year.

dawgdan

October 23rd, 2009
4:29 pm

Heh. Ooops. Bradley, Schultz… they’re all the same. :)

JP

October 23rd, 2009
4:33 pm

The guy is a franchise-changing pick, and it’s hard to get much more significant than that. I was never able to understand why so many people were bashing him out of college or hoping we’d pick someone else instead. How many times do you hear the names Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey or Darren McFadden on the highlight shows?

If we’re able to develop a strong defense over the next couple of years — the one we have right now is still overachieving in my opinion — the Falcons will be scary. As it is, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to be able to root for a Falcons team that is absolutely legit.

Ozzy

October 23rd, 2009
4:34 pm

Almost everyone agrees that QB is the most important position in football. Thank you Dimitroff and also thanks to Miami and St. Louis for passing on him. This Franchise now has a face for several years to come. We will defintely having a winning streak starting this year as long as we got Matt Ryan..

Whopper Dawg

October 23rd, 2009
4:42 pm

I live in TN now, so unfortunately I do not get the Falcons on TV that often. So last year, after hearing and reading about all their success, I really wanted to see how they looked. So about the eighth game they were on TV, and you could tell immediately this guy was a QB. I almost cried as it had been so long since I saw a Falcon QB do QB things like actually play action fake, read defenses, check down, etc. Truly refreshing.

GoldenRichards

October 23rd, 2009
4:49 pm

Ryan is the most talented young qb to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning. We wont know for a long time and without trying to put any pressure on him, I think Ryan will win the MVP of the league within the next 2 or 3 years. HE IS SIMPLY THAT GOOD.

F-105 Thunderchief

October 23rd, 2009
4:50 pm

Jeff wrote: “Troy Aikman, a Hall of Famer, says things about Ryan that he won’t say about the quarterback for his former team in Dallas. Tony Dungy likens Ryan to Peyton Manning, his former quarterback in Indianapolis and a Hall of Famer in waiting.”

And yet, the AJC has yet another unsigned Bizarro World blog the other day, saying “we,” keep hearing how Ryan is no Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

What idiot comes up with these and what idiot allows these patently untrue blogs to be posted on your Web site. It’s Bird Babe-like silliness.

DJ

October 23rd, 2009
4:51 pm

Miami and St Louis passed because MR didn’t have the Jeff George arm or the Peyton Manning size or the Mike Vick speed. Never mind that; the guy has displayed, from day one, an uncanny ability to understand what is required of the position.

And, it seems, the Falcons could now pick up Glen Dorsey if they so choose.

Blindog

October 23rd, 2009
4:57 pm

Tears of joy my friend,we finaly have a REAL QB, thank God!

Wesley Wallace

October 23rd, 2009
5:01 pm

I like Ryan. I think he is great, but I don’t like the nickname “Mattie Ice”. I like “Noodle Arm” better, but that is still demeaning, so I think the public should come up with something cooler. Ryan does not get to make up his own nickname. It has to be given to him.

F-105 Thunderchief

October 23rd, 2009
5:04 pm

Matt “Red” Ryan is one tough hombre and is like an old West sheriff.

Supes

October 23rd, 2009
5:10 pm

Tony Romeo is a solid fantasy QB (until December, just a side note for his owners out there) and he’s awesome at golf and hooking up with starlets.

Matt Ryan is an elite franchise QB who will lead the Atlanta Falcons organization to becoming a playoff contending team year in and year out.

Cowboys (talanted team that is going in the wrong direction)

Falcons (up and coming young team that is becoming one of the better teams in the NFC)

It’s pretty clear…Falcons over Cowgirls this sunday!

The Grinch

October 23rd, 2009
5:14 pm

We don’t need Glenn Dorsey, we need a cornerback toots-sweet. VanGorder’s good, but you can only do so much with Grimes and Huston. I somehow don’t think Tye Hill or Jamaal Fudge is the answer. Boy, it’s a good thing Fudge doesn’t play for Green Bay, huh? :-P

Rufus

October 23rd, 2009
5:15 pm

If Ryan is really that good, just imagine what he’d be with a really good O line in front of him. He might even be justified in wearing that superman cape you’re all trying to put on him.

Alan

October 23rd, 2009
5:18 pm

Leave the nickname alone, all you have to do is see him under pressure and the name fits perfectly. GO FALCONS-GO SOUTHERN RUSH

Sonny Clusters

October 23rd, 2009
5:20 pm

They was a boy on our team named Fudge and he was a mess. Coach only played him when Fudge’s Momma would cry.

Sonny Clusters

October 23rd, 2009
5:23 pm

We was at Parkview, not Brookwood.

where are all of the Glenn Dorsey lovers now?

October 23rd, 2009
5:23 pm

QB is QB… and it’s the most important position on the field. and you guys wanted a nosetackle!

comparison about Romo to Ryans when Roma first got his feet wet in the beginning

October 23rd, 2009
5:26 pm

Ryan is a good quarterback but it to early to tell if he will be one of the NFL elite quarterback.Cowboys are my team even-though I from GA.I have heard the same comparison about Romo to when he first got his feet wet and had a season under his belt.Tony Romo is awesome,incredible,smart,and can do it all but now he hasn’t won not one playoff game or any major big game.I am not knocking Ryan but it still to early to over hype what he is doing.I think he will be a better quarterback with better players around him but would probably struggle with no help.I wouldn’t compare him to Peyton Manning but someone like Terry Bradshaw.Now if the falcons can had a great defense then I would say Ryan is about on his way to the big one.The falcons can beat anybody if they stay aggressive on both offense and defense.I hope this don’t happen on Sunday and go Cowboys.

PMC

October 23rd, 2009
5:28 pm

Falcons Fans are just so used to having that high pick bust we were more gun shy than Dimitroff. The guy said…. “I’m something of a Quarterback Snob.” He knows what he’s doing. We’re not used to seeing that in Atlanta Sports Management. He also worked in scouting secondary personnel. So far so good. The guy has been golden.

You can’t ask more of Matt Ryan. I’m glad he’s on our team. I trust him to make the right decision and be able to lead the team back even if they have some hiccups.

matt r

October 23rd, 2009
5:34 pm

Actually I think the most important thing about a QB is something you can measure… W’s and L’s. And he is doing good in those categories.

surfdawg

October 23rd, 2009
5:37 pm

i wonder when some of those staunch Vick fans are gonna post,”Hey maybe this kid can play quarterback”

Ryder

October 23rd, 2009
5:40 pm

As much as I love watching the leadership that Matt Ryan displays game in and game out, something he did last Sunday night that showed me this man has IT! When the Falcons’ offense was stuck in neutral against the Bears, Ryan went out there and mixed it up, confusing Chicago in the process and basically controlling the game (sans one horrible tip drill from WR Jenkins).

Matt Ryan is the kind of player you can’t define by stats, much like Brady was in the beginning.

All Atlanta needs is a secondary and they are kissing Super Bowl rings in no time!

jeffrey d

October 23rd, 2009
5:45 pm

Congrats on the long goal, Mr. Schultz

Shamus Thacker

October 23rd, 2009
5:49 pm

Took Bartkowski 5-years to make a difference. Matt made a difference on day one.

The Grinch

October 23rd, 2009
5:52 pm

Ryder, they kissed Superbowl rings a few weeks ago at New England and it cost them a win. I still think they’re a year or two away, but I couldn’t be happier with the direction they’re headed.

Surfdawg, they won’t until he comes out looking like Al Jolson.

Dirk

October 23rd, 2009
5:54 pm

Maybe the bloggers should realize that the Falcon coaches are aware of Ryan’s pluses and minuses. Obviously, they put in plays to accentuate his pluses and minimize his minuses. With all of that said, Ryan is a hell of quarterback with above average field vision and “to the stratosphere” football intelligence.

Reid Adair

October 23rd, 2009
5:59 pm

It is amazing what that one decision – a single draft choice – has done to change the Falcons’ franchise, both immediately and hopefully for the long term.

t larry

October 23rd, 2009
6:02 pm

Great job Mattey Ice !!!! Go falcons in dallas. These next two weeks will tell the real story.

Bring back FALCONS SORRY, I sure do miss his comments.

Paddy

October 23rd, 2009
6:06 pm

Rufus….you don’t think the Falcons have a good O line? Wipe down the front of your tv screen. You are missing a good show. Our O line is good, young and nasty. And the best is yet to come.

Greg Mendel

October 23rd, 2009
6:07 pm

Regarding nicknames, I like “Mattie Ice.” Although I’d prefer, “Iceman” or, simply, “Ice.” Of course, the “Iceman” lost his ice to a skilled, but undisciplined, hotshot in the movie “Top Gun.”

A good friend who’s written several books on military aviation commented on “Top Gun.” He said, “Fun movie, but in the real world, if I’m strapped into the backseat of a supersonic fighter, I don’t want ‘Maverick’ flying the plane. I want the “Iceman” at the stick.”

Paddy

October 23rd, 2009
6:11 pm

t larry….ditto FALCONS SORRY AND MV7 also. I guess their material is not as sound as they thought it was? Since they are both “comparative shoppers” their list is just about empty.

Buford T Justice

October 23rd, 2009
6:16 pm

I’d say that Matt Ryan is the damndest pahsuee that I’ve evuh pahsued.

surfdawg

October 23rd, 2009
6:27 pm

It’s good to see the true Falcons fans posting again and by Falcons I mean the whole team not just one player

nativefalcon

October 23rd, 2009
6:33 pm

Some idiot poster on the Cowboys forums, said he hated Matt Ryan because he said he was SOOOOO Cocky? What? Who? Where? How? I wondered real hard what the hell this dude was smoking, Matt Ryan besides being a awsome QB is down to earth and humble. Hell Tony Romo is cocky for that matter, except when he’s throwing 5 interceptions. :) Besides knowing that Atlanta finally got it right about getting the right QB instead of another Farve, I love that fact. If we had passed on Farve the NFL would have NEVER let us hear the end of it. Matty ICE Ryan is the type QB you watch and just grin and go I’m glad he’s our QB. :) We deserve a good one.

Greg Mendel

October 23rd, 2009
6:43 pm

surfdawg: I agree. I’ve been a fan since 1966. This is the first time I’ve felt the Falcons actually have a PLAN. Ryan, Smith and Dimitroff have made a huge difference, but Mr. Blank deserves a lot of credit. In contrast to those other Smiths, he went with his heart, got betrayed, and regained his balance and good sense. Which is why we’re winning.

As a fan, I hope we’ll win every game, but as a long-term fan, I figure the Falcons are going to be a fearsome team in about two years.

Symone

October 23rd, 2009
6:45 pm

For the poster who said that Ryan doesn’t get to pick his own nickname,know that was aname given to him when he was a kid!……I was optimistic about “Matty Ice” last year and I’m even more so now! Lets Go Falcons!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

October 23rd, 2009
6:46 pm

I choke in playoffs

I have a weak arm

I have as much mobility as a SNAIL

I have ZERO playoff wins

I sucked vs Top Quality teams like New England

Yep – I’m elite alright!

Even Joey Harrington was better :)

Supes

October 23rd, 2009
6:47 pm

Matt Ryan is a confident QB, not cocky.

Well, the talking heads on Sportscenter are all picking the Cowgirls to beat the Falcons….so we’re as good as ever for the win.

I’ll say it again for the misled Cowgirls fan….Tony Romeo is a good Fantasy Football QB (minus December games).

nativefalcon

October 23rd, 2009
6:49 pm

Also Dawgmess, I like the SEC too, but look at the NFL right now? There are a good many QBs that are ex sec, but when you get into big boy football, I could CARE LESS where you played college ball. All it matters is that you can play.