FLOWERY BRANCH – Matt Ryan is much like his team. He does little to make you go, “Wow,” at least until you look at the won-loss record. He doesn’t blow you away with his arm or his legs or his sound bites.
His shoe would be, “Air Beige.”
If you walked into a music store, Ryan would be the equivalent of the vinyl in the far left corner, not the digital music players to the right that can hold everything on the floor, as well as possibly wax the floor.
Vinyl still sounds better.
The Falcons are in the playoffs for the second time in Ryan’s three years. The biggest reason they’re here is the maturation of their starting quarterback, who is 33-13 in starts for so many reasons other than being able to throw passes that leave vapor trails.
Ryan was drafted because, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff said, the Falcons needed a quarterback who “could not only handle the football intelligence side of the game, but he also needed to handle a very interesting situation coming here after the 2007 season.”
First time I’ve ever heard the words “very interesting” applied to the NFL equivalent of Kabul, which is pretty much what we had here after Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick.
Ryan gets criticized by some for not having a strong arm. The inaccuracy of this statement aside – Quoth Dimitroff: “He has a strong arm, and a strong arm for this system.” — this is like criticizing a car for not having spinning rims.
Jeff George could throw a ball through cinder block. Unfortunately, he had a head to match. It’s the reason he threw for over 27,000 yards but went 46-78 as a starter.
When Dimitroff was asked to list his criteria for being a successful NFL quarterback, arm strength was the caboose on his scouting train.
The list: 1. Leadership; 2. Football intelligence; 3. Being taller than 5-foot-9 (he was half-joking, but it’s worth noting Dimitoff is 5-8¾, depending on his shoes); 4. Resolve and resilience; 5. and 6. Accuracy and decision-making (interchangeable); 7. Pocket presence and an ability to ad-lib; 8. Arm strength.
The Falcons play Green Bay Saturday night. Remember those embraced quarterback traits and consider this: When Ryan faced the Packers in November, he countered numerous blitzes with quick passes, completing 24 of 28 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown.
On third- and fourth-down, he completed 10 of 12 for four first downs and a touchdown. He drove the offense to a game-winning field goal in the final seconds. He has engineered 13 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, including six this season.
His quarterback rating of 104.1 on third down is the third best in the NFL, behind only Tom Brady (119.3) and Ben Roethlisberger (114.2). His rating of 96.7 against blitzes ranks second in the NFC to the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
In the NFL, cool outweighs arm strength every day and twice on Sunday.
Ryan jokes that he’s “old school.” It’s because of his note-taking.
“No computer,” he says.
Just a pencil and a legal pad.
Ryan will take notes about the game plan during game week. He’ll write down his thoughts about the opponent and follow it up with reflections after the game, including the defenses and switches he saw on the field.
“Then I just tear out the sheet, three-hole punch it and put it in a binder,” Ryan said. “Coach [Bill] Musgrave helped me set it up.”
Alphabetized by teams?
“Yeah, I’m kind of like a nerd,” he said. “I’ve even got the dividers with the tabs like you had in school.”
“No, just white.”
Ryan said the notebook has helped him whenever he has played against a team for a second time.
“When we played Tampa,” he said, “I could go back to my notes from when Monte Kiffin was there. Raheem [Morris] started calling plays for the defense, and they did some similar things. You had similar checks and fronts and tendencies.”
He said the notes also help when he goes against the same defensive coordinator on another team, or “when teams use similar groupings of players.”
It all seems so basic, right? But these are the things that don’t show up in punt, pass and kick contests. They just win games.
There are your wows.
By Jeff Schultz
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