Inquiring minds are asking: Is Matt Ryan overrated or what?

Against Green Bay, the Iceman stunketh. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

On Saturday, the Iceman stunketh. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

A month ago we wondered if Matt Ryan might be the NFL’s MVP. Now we get to spend the next eight months pondering whether Matty Ice might be overhyped. (Google his name and “overrated.” You’ll get the drift.) He has led the Falcons to three consecutive winning seasons — before Ryan arrived, no Atlanta quarterback had managed even two — but twice he has saved his worst for last.

Ryan’s playoff numbers: A total of 385 yards passing; an average of 5.7 yards per pass (which is awful); three touchdowns; four interceptions; two fumbles lost; eight sacks. He was a rookie on the road against Arizona in January 2009, but Saturday he was a fully blooded professional working  in the building he has made his own.

Yes, winning in postseason is hard. (Peyton Manning needed six seasons to win his first playoff game; John Elway needed four.) But the magnitude of the loss to Green Bay has forced us to look harder at the 13-3 Falcons, and we cannot excuse Ryan from that examination.

He ranked ninth among NFL quarterbacks this season in yards passing. He was tied for sixth (with the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers) in touchdown passes and was 12th (just behind Michael Vick) in completion percentage. His passer rating of 91.9 slotted him 11th (just behind Peyton Manning, just ahead of Drew Brees). His average of 6.5 yards per pass was 26th best in a 32-team league. Ryan was named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster, but his numbers weren’t Pro Bowl caliber.

And yet: Ryan was great on third down — the Falcons ranked third behind New Orleans and New England in conversions — and he engineered six victories when the Falcons trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. And that’s the perplexing part. The Falcons know full well what this quarterback can do, but they take their time getting around to letting him do it.

It’s not that they’re afraid Ryan will mess up: He threw only nine interceptions in 571 passes this season, and those 571 attempts were the sixth-most by any quarterback. It isn’t that he doesn’t get to throw but that he throws to so little effect. Ryan’s longest completion this season was for 46 yards; every regular starting quarterback save Arizona’s Derek Anderson managed a more substantial gain.

About here, I know what some among you are saying: “See! I told you he doesn’t have the arm strength!” Balderdash. His arm meets NFL specifications. And if arm strength were the sole determinant, Jeff George would have been Joe Montana.

Back to Saturday night: Rodgers had seven completions of 20 or more yards;  Ryan had two, both to Michael Jenkins. As weird as it sounds, the author of so many winning drives seemed scared to dare — except for the one time when he shouldn’t have, on his fateful final pass of the first half.

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There are times — Saturday’s game was the most striking, but it wasn’t the only example — where the famously apt pupil leaves the impression of having studied too hard. At Boston College he was dauntless, but the Falcons have coached much of the flair out of him. That will have to change. Robots don’t win the Super Bowl. Quarterbacks willing to take risks and make plays do.

So: Is Ryan overrated? He is if you deem him one of the league’s best half-dozen quarterbacks. He’s not there yet. (The top six: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning,  Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Rodgers and Philip Rivers.) But Ryan is among the top 10, and that could/should be good enough.

The more I see of him, the more I go back to the supposition of last season: That Ryan is closer to Eli Manning than to Peyton, that he’s a very good quarterback but not quite a great one. And that’s OK — Eli Manning has a Super Bowl ring of his own. The bottom line is that the Falcons can win a championship with Matt Ryan. They didn’t this time, but plenty of next times remain.

By Mark Bradley

753 comments Add your comment

Buck Commander

January 19th, 2011
11:23 am

Mark Bradley

January 19th, 2011
11:24 am

Maybe the quickest “first” ever, Buck Commander.

Rapid kudos.

Buck Commander

January 19th, 2011
11:25 am

And to all you first bashers out there, have at it losers.

Paul H

January 19th, 2011
11:27 am

4th. Dang it.

DawginLex

January 19th, 2011
11:33 am

Yeah, really overrated.

Plays as a rookie.
Replaces ATL’s savior-vick
Leads team to playoffs as a rookie
Leads team to 3 straight winning seasons.
Leads team to best record in NFC

All for a franchise that has done next to nothing for my entire life.

He has a real coach. He is very good and they will be back.

reebok

January 19th, 2011
11:34 am

I remember watching Boston College’s Matty Ice sling the ball long against GT’s (admittedly poor)secondary and shred that D with long balls…there is absolutely nothing wrong with his arm strength. But he did look nervous, like he was aiming the ball, against the Packers.

falcons fan

January 19th, 2011
11:34 am

i was one of the ones thinking he’s one of the elite QBs but theres no way he can be in the category with those playoff performances. be be regarded as one of the best, you have to perform at you best when it counts the most. so yes until he ups his playoff performance i must say he is a bit overated

carl aven

January 19th, 2011
11:34 am

why are you making such a big deal on 3rd down plays /
if RYAN WAS CALLING THOSE PLAYS I WOULD HAVE MORE respect for your position
re carl m aven

Falco

January 19th, 2011
11:35 am

Matt Ryan was simply out-schemed by Dom Capers (GB’s Def.Coor.) And that was half the fault of Mike Mularkey. 2 playoff games is WAY too early to start calling our QB overrated. He is easily one of the top 10 in the league.

PMC

January 19th, 2011
11:35 am

They should just run the no huddle/sugar huddle all the freaking time.

Hayseed Dixie

January 19th, 2011
11:35 am

When all is said and done, Matt Ryan will be at the center of some of the best memories in Atlanta sports history.

Anyone doubt how dominant Elway looked when he finally got his Terrell Davis?

Takes time.

Railman311

January 19th, 2011
11:36 am

I think not, boy y’all are quick to throw a man overboard aren’t ya

Hayseed Dixie

January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

Oh, and I’ll bet the farm he elevates his game even further next year.

His character is that evident.

Bob Lee threw passes here

January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

MB:

While I don’t put you in the top ten sports columnists in the country I do find you to be a “Good and Competent” one. Why you are putting this horrendous loss on Matt is befuddling to me. Is he there yet? No. Does Mularkey need to unloosen the reins some. YES!!!

I place this loss squarely on the coaching. Smitty and BVG were flat outcoached! This loss was of Waterloo porportions!

Chris(Rell)

January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

Seems like he stares down his recievers too much. Im surprised he didnt throw more INT’s this year.

falcons fan

January 19th, 2011
11:38 am

Hayseed Dixie..most memories are playoff memories..no one cares about the regular season..and thus far all we have of matt ryan are bad playoff memories until he start performing in the playoffs

PMC

January 19th, 2011
11:38 am

I don’t feel like he’s overrated, I just feel like people don’t know how to talk about a good player without using superlatives far to early. We always want to jump to a conclusion without giving it time to play out. It took Drew Brees quite a while to become what he is, and his team drafted another #1 pick and let him go before it happened.

Matt Ryan is still growing as a QB and the Falcons are growing as a team. We just have to be patient.

Bob Lee threw passes here

January 19th, 2011
11:39 am

Maybe your next column should be is the Wunderkid Thomas Dimitroff overated? Clearly the jury is still out on some of his picks

Karl

January 19th, 2011
11:39 am

It’s the Atlanta sports curse. If we had drafted Flacco or we had Aaron Rogers or Drew Brees, they would suck too.

yo mama

January 19th, 2011
11:40 am

rodgers sat for three seasons and watched how favre did it. rodgers also has a great, great defense around him. but it took him six years to win his first playoff game. he did that against mike vick, who everyone crowned the MVP after only playing in six games. Mike Vick got embarassed at home by the packers and rodgers. you say its going to take a qb to take risks, and learn. ryan took risks, saturday, and got burned. he is learning. i would rather see him mature into it, grow like he should be able to. Ryan is right on course if you ask me. he did everything he was supposed to this season. now in the post season, he has to learn to suppress the mistakes. once he learns that, gains more experience, the falcons will be the reigning champs. it takes time to build a dynasty. but we are on our way. maybe a few more bumps, but the road map is set. ryan is fine. leave him alone.

maddawg

January 19th, 2011
11:41 am

Matt Ryan is judged differently because of his fast start. he is a good quarteback who will be great in another year or two. No need for panic here!!

matt

January 19th, 2011
11:41 am

I will say that the play call at the end of the first half was stupid, but to actually throw that pass was a horrific blunder. I think Ryan is being hurt by coaching. Seems to have regressed from year one.

Fish Bisch

January 19th, 2011
11:43 am

It’s not Ryan’s fault. The coaches had a horrible game plan and everyone knows how well the offense clicks when Ryan is running the no huddle which started happening I think with around 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Three and a half quarters too late I might add.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 19th, 2011
11:43 am

Maybe he is maybe he isn’t but until he wins a playoff game the long suffering falcons fans (some of them) are going to bash him.
I am happy he is the falcons quarterback my-self.
we could have a herrington running the show.

UGABugKiller

January 19th, 2011
11:44 am

Matt Ryan will only be as good as Smith & Mularkey let him be.

They have chained him to this Martyball Offense, which is a loser’s philosophy, a play-not-to-lose, micro-managed, vanilla-flavored, SCARED b.s. offense that NEVER wins in the postseason.

SHAME on Mike Smith and his ultra-conservative, scared coaching style.

TruthSeeker

January 19th, 2011
11:44 am

He’s not overrated. He’s a good second tier NFL quarterback. No, he’s not the on the same plane as Brady, Manning or Rodgers, but everyone knew that before Saturday’s game.

Remember that he’s still only in his third year in the league. Rodgers hadn’t even taken a meaningful snap yet by his third year.

carnac the magnificent

January 19th, 2011
11:45 am

who needs to get a life? Buck Commander

falcons fan

January 19th, 2011
11:45 am

the whole coaching staff needs to be overhauled except Mike smith..we need both offensive and defensive coordinators. we need to have an aggressive offense and and aggressive defense

Karl

January 19th, 2011
11:46 am

ok, I admit it. I’m bitter and immature.

Jeff

January 19th, 2011
11:46 am

PMC nailed it. Matty is still growing as an NFL QB. His stats this year were dramatically better than his first two years. Don’t get hung up on one bad night. He could be the next Peyton Manning, a few years from now.

rduck

January 19th, 2011
11:47 am

reebok: I too was there at GT that night you talked about. He threw for more than 500 yds and was throwing bombs all over the place right on target. Nothing wrong with his arm strength. The WR’s and OC need to do a better job of stretching the field. He is still young and very capable of alot more. Time will tell if he is elite or not, but I will take my chances with him anyday…

JeJe

January 19th, 2011
11:48 am

Fish Bisch

January 19th, 2011
11:50 am

I think Christopher Owens is under rated. He played a heck of a game Saturday.

oldmike

January 19th, 2011
11:51 am

No need to panic. The ofense became way too predictable. We rarely if ever took a shot downfield. Surprised we didn’t make more use of Harry Douglas’s speed. We need someone out fo the backfierld that can get to the edge and turn it upfield. (your point in another post MarkB) And we need to game plan to win – not control the clock. I think it starts and ends with the defense. Until we can get consistent stops we go nowhere. Smitty is a defense minded coach so he focuses on that premise. Maybe we need to pass to run not the opposite. Let’s see what this draft brings.

Delbert D.

January 19th, 2011
11:51 am

Enter your comments hereDrew Brees’ first 3 years:

29 TD 31 INT Passer ratings of 94.8*, 76.9 and 67.5

*represents 1 game played in 2001.

4th year:

27 TD 7 INT Passer rating of 104.8

SG

January 19th, 2011
11:51 am

He’s a little overrated. He just doesn’t have a real strong arm or a quick release, but you don’t have to have either to be a good QB if you have a great surrounding cast. I think #33 is more overrated than #2. #33 needs to lay off the squats or something, he is too heavy and thick to be as explosive as he needs to be. He doesn’t run like a big power back. Our TE is a little overrated as well. Don’t lay everything on the QB.

Fish Bisch

January 19th, 2011
11:51 am

I think Smith and the coaches were very aggressive calling offensive plays. Let’s punt when we are down three scores. After all, there is plenty of time to catch up.

rduck

January 19th, 2011
11:52 am

If I was the QB and saw that our Defense couldn’t stop a nose bleed, I would take more risks like he did Sat nite. The defense was being shredded and showed no sign of being able to stop Rodgers. Thus, the pressure to try and make every play. He could not afford to play it safe and punt because the Packers were going to score at will.

GSU Eage 91

January 19th, 2011
11:53 am

Mark:
I have been a true Falcon fan since 1969, when I bought my first Cannonball Butler and Harmon Wages cards as an 8 year old. I even like Bob Berry @ QB…
So you know I have been a long-time sufferer with this team. True, we did have great years in 1980, 1998 and 2004, but that is a pretty pitiful number over 40+ years.
Now to the present…I really think we are set with Mr Blank, T Dimitroff and Coach Smith in charge.
Matt Ryan has been really good as well. and he is just 24! He has 6 or 7 more years, barring injury until he matures into his best seasons as a QB in the NFL…So at this stage, I think he is Great!
His o-line, which I thought coming into the season was a weakness, performed well this season. But the left side is still average at best.
What I watched Saturday night was not a QB problem….This team lacks “explosive” playmakers on both sides of the ball, especially on Defense. brent Grimes can make a play for you, but has a lot of trouble with bigger WR’s. We could not get off of the field on 3rd down as a Defense..It was awful to watch…
Let’s give GB some accolades for their excellent performance. I have a feeling Aaron Rodgers is going to light up Chicago’s weak pass defense as well, and carry his team to the Super Bowl. The AFC representative will be tough to beat but GB should emerge as the winner..
Let’s add a few more key players to this team of ours, and see what happens next year…DE, WR and a 3rd down “scat-back” who can catch the ball in a checkdown mode on 3rd and 7 will benefit this team greatly…

Cobb Dawg

January 19th, 2011
11:54 am

Great analysis, Mark. I’m reminded of Michael Jordan’s first few NBA playoff appearances, when he got manhandled by stronger and more experienced players. He responded by dedicating himself to working harder and overcoming his remaining deficiencies, and that worked out pretty well. As an NFL quarterback, Ryan is still an infant in many ways. With patience, and the right coaching and surrounding cast, he’s got plenty of time left to fill out his (already impressive) resume.

southerndawg

January 19th, 2011
11:56 am

It’s easy to get down on the quarterback after a loss like that, but matty ice doesn’t play defense. We need to revamp the defense, starting with a new DC. I always liked van gorder at UGS, but his style doesn’t seem to be working in the NFL.

southerndawg

January 19th, 2011
11:57 am

Sorry I mean at UGA

Long Ball

January 19th, 2011
11:58 am

It takes the right mesh of personnel and scheme every game to come out on top… putting the number of wins and losses on 1 player is ignorant.

Doug

January 19th, 2011
11:58 am

Overrated? No…I don’t think anyone is saying or has said that he is the best QB in the league or even on the aforementioned group of six. He obviously needs to play better in the playoffs and should not be impervious to criticism. Having said that he is hampered by a total absence of speed on the outside at TE and at RB. He is also hampered by an ultra conservative approach, i.e. dump the ball if your 1st option is not immediately open.

travis

January 19th, 2011
11:59 am

Give the kid a break Mark bradley his defense gave up that game up. Matt Ryan is not overrated he better than Peyton Manning when he first 3 years. Dimotroff would tighten that defense up and give Matty Ice another fast rec or two he will be even better lay of the kid.

tp

January 19th, 2011
12:01 pm

When was the last time you saw Ryan throw deep down the MIDDLE of the field, either to a TE or slot receiver running a skinny post or something similar?

I think Ryan is being limited by both the scheme and/or the personnel. Either these types of patterns don’t seem to be a part of the scheme BECAUSE of the collective skill set of the players, or Mularkey just prefers to work the deep outside of the field combined with short/intermediate crosses, curls, etc.

No one can disagree that Tony Gonzalez is one of the best ever, but he doesn’t have the speed anymore to push the deep middle of the field. Considering the sheer number of two TE sets they run both for passing and running plays, I think a TE – either in free agency or the draft – who can accomplish this for us is the team’s biggest need (a tie for #2: speed at WR and RB). I think two viable tight ends (please don’t retire Tony) in this offense can have a dramatic effect both on the running game and Ryan’s passing numbers.

Benjamin

January 19th, 2011
12:01 pm

Matt Ryan is a very good NFL quarterback at a relatively young age. I really hope people don’t start parsing his career after two playoff games…

Think of it this way — he’s a significant part of the reason the entire organization didn’t fall into the toilet in the aftermath of the Mike Vick/Bobby Petrino debacle. Four years ago, this franchise was on the verge of being the absolute worst organization in all of football. When Dmitroff and Smith drafted him and made him the face of the franchise, the franchise’s direction changed in large part because of him..

Ryan doesn’t deserve this, in my opinion.

Junck yard Dog

January 19th, 2011
12:01 pm

GAME PLAN AS SMITTY PUT WAS PATHETIC. FALCONS NEEDS CREATIVITY ON THE OFFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL, NEEDS A SPEEDY WIDE OUT, A MORE VERSATILE BACK AND A TIGHT END WHO WILL BE LEARNING THE ROPES BEHIND GONZO. DEFENSE NEEDS SERIOUS UPGRADE MAYBE AS SOME ONE ABOVE HAS QUESTIONED TD’S DRAFT PICKS HAVE BEEN SUSPECT ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU SEE TEAMS PLAYING UNDRAFTED PLAYERS WHO TURN OUT TO BE GEMS.

MV7

January 19th, 2011
12:02 pm

Miss me yet? I’m the best Atl ever had and ever will have.

Benjamin

January 19th, 2011
12:03 pm

Bradley, you do realize that articles like this are going to bring out idiots like MV7.

Honestly, I would’ve expected more from you than this. This stuff feeds into the troll mentality.