FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons’ acquisition of Asante Samuel this offseason might prove to be more than just an upgrade of the team’s secondary. He also opened Matt Ryan’s eyes a little bit with some analysis.
“Yeah, he crushed me,” Ryan said, laughing. “But he has a way of crushing everybody. We played against him four times, and I think he had like three picks against me.”
The Falcons opened training camp Thursday. Ryan had just finished talking about his revised offseason workouts (increased weight-lifting), his new approach to practices and meetings (maintaining consistent focus, discipline and intensity through the year) and the hiring of a new offensive coordinator (Dirk Koetter), all of which he hopes will result in something significantly north of another playoff shutout.
It’s no secret that Ryan hasn’t been good in his three playoff games. It hit him shortly after (and possibly during) the 24-2 loss to the New York Giants that something had to change.
Taking ownership wasn’t a problem Thursday. “When you look at the past season, and leading up to this point of your career, I certainly haven’t been where I need to be,” he said. “I haven’t been as good as I can be.”
He sought and received critiques from opposing players. Quarterbacks “tend to not be too rough on each other,” he said. But Samuel, acquired from Philadelphia, didn’t hold back after arriving and provided some revelations.
“Well, I’m not going to tell you,” Ryan said, smiling.
But he is not shy about addressing the obvious: He knows the offense has to get better, and particularly more efficient in the red zone, for this team to have any postseason.
“When you look at the difference between a first-round exit and a Super Bowl championship, the game shakes on five, six, seven plays,” he said. “We have to be better. I have to be better.”
They also have to be less predictable. If we can’t yet know how effective Koetter will be, we at least know things had hit a wall with Mike Mularkey. Play-calling seemed rubber-stamped from the week before. It’s less about the common refrain, that Ryan needs to throw deep more, than it is the offense needs to be more varied.
I have found there to be one absolute in football: When guys in the press box are calling out the play before the snap, there’s a problem.
It’s hard for an offense to get shut out in a game. When a team gets 10 to 12 possessions, it’s bound to stumble into at least a couple of field goals.
Mularkey didn’t understand the criticism. He lived at the intersection of arrogant and insufferable. He seemed closed to any suggestions that his offense had become predictable and that halftime adjustments by opponents possibly led to a drop-off in production. He dismissed these as mere theories from “outside sources.”
“The general public and yourself would not know that unless you studied film, knew what the game plan was and knew what was happening in the first half and not the second half,” Mularkey said last season.
Oh, woe be our feeble minds.
Mularkey is now disseminating his brilliance in Jacksonville.
Ryan did not take any shots at Mularkey, of course. He even said, “I liked playing for Mike.”
But take note of Ryan’s remarks on Koetter: “He’s been really good in meetings, really upbeat, really positive. Everybody is impressed with how smart he is and how receptive he is to our input. … Dirk’s got a different way of teaching, and a lot of our guys respond to it well. He pushes people differently. Mike was very demanding, very organized. Dirk is as well, but he has a different type of personality. He’s very positive. It’s a different vibe.”
Ryan actually had an impressive year statistically — career highs in yards (4,177), touchdowns (29) and efficiency (92.2) — especially considering he was out there with a just-average running game and too-often less-than-average protection from his line. But he knows he needs to better.
He said the offense most needs to improve on “finishing drives.” Some of that is execution by his teammates. Some of it is play-calling. Some of it is on the quarterback.
“There’s one thing that tells you that you need to do something different, and that’s the end result,” he said.
– Jeff Schultz