Is Matt Ryan the NFL’s best? Nope. Is he good enough? Yep

Here we have an actual picture of an icecap. Get it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here we have an actual picture of an icecap. Get it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Fair’s fair. If we criticize Matt Ryan for not throwing the best deep ball and for authoring a tepid start to this season — and we have on both counts — we must also say this: The guy’s got it going now. (Maybe not on the deep pass, but on everything else.)

Matt Ryan through the first seven games of 2011: Nine touchdown passes, eight interceptions,  a yards-per-pass average of 6.68 and a 79.5 passer rating.

Matt Ryan through the next seven games of 2011: Seventeen touchdown passes, four interceptions, a yards-per-pass average of 7.96 and a 101.5 passer rating.

It’s not as if Ryan is throwing more, or even more accurately. His totals for attempts and completions from those first seven games to the past seven are almost identical. What’s different if the effect. By whatever means — slightly deeper throws, more yards-after-catch — the Falcons have become more pass-productive.

Numbers geeks insist the single most important stat in football is yards per attempt, and through seven games the Falcons’ YPA was pedestrian. Now it meets NFL requirements. Through seven games Ryan hadn’t had much of a season, but he’s having one now. He’s on pace to set personal bests for yardage and touchdowns, and he’s 0.5 off his best seasonal passer rating.

In sum, the chilliness of Matty Ice has yielded to a warming trend. We nitpick the guy to shreds — I’m as guilty as anyone — but in the carping we sometimes miss the bigger picture.

Is Ryan among the NFL’s five best quarterbacks? No. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning comprise a front four unto themselves, and Ben Roethlisberger’s two Super Bowl rings make him No. 5.

Is Ryan among the NFL’s 10 best quarterbacks? Absolutely. Behind the top five, I’d put him in the second tier of four more or less alongside Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco. (Who fills out the top 10? Maybe Tony Romo. Maybe Matt Schaub or Matthew Stafford. Maybe, in a different year, Michael Vick.)

Here are the other salient numbers regarding Ryan — 42-20. That’s the Falcons’ record in games he has started. That’s a winning percentage of .677, and it puts him in high company. Brady and Roethelisberger have won at a higher rate, and so has Rodgers, if barely. (He was 44-21 entering Sunday’s game.) But that .667 beats the great Peyton Manning’s career winning percentage, which is .661.

And here you’re saying: Peyton’s career record was skewed by the 3-13 of his rookie season. That’s true, but Ryan was drafted by a team that had gone 4-12 the year before and was working under a new coach. The 2008 Falcons were a prime candidate to go 3-13, but their new quarterback didn’t let them. The 2008 Falcons went 11-5 instead and made the playoffs, and they haven’t had a losing season under Ryan (or Mike Smith).

In a weird way, Ryan’s rookie season has jaundiced our view. If he was that good that soon, we all wondered, how much better would he be given another couple of years? We’ve gotten our answer: Not all that much better. He was tough and polished from the start, and he’s tough and polished now. His completion percentage is actually slightly lower in Year 4 than in Year 1, and so is his yards-per-attempt. But he’s still winning, and as Smith noted after the Minnesota game: “That’s the only number that matters for a quarterback.”

A few weeks ago Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated examined the career path of four NFL quarterbacks who had early success — Ryan,  Flacco, Mark Sanchez of the Jets and Josh Freeman of the Buccaneers — and wondered if, because they played in sophisticated college offenses, they arrived in the NFL “with less room to grow.” Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons’ general manager, offered Trotter this rather fascinating quote:

There are some very valid levels below that elite [quarterback] level that can allow organizations to be successful and make runs at Super Bowls. Everyone needs to understand that … They don’t have to necessarily [have] the elite quarterback of the league to be successful as a team.

Some might interpret that as Dimitroff saying the man he drafted with his first pick as GM will never be as good as Rodgers or Brees or Brady or Peyton M., but his greater point was: Does it matter? Eli Manning has won as many Super Bowls as his big brother. Brad Johnson won as many Super Bowls as Brett Favre. The key question to ask of an NFL quarterback: Can this guy win a championship?

The Falcons have Matt Ryan. He might not be the best there is, but he’s plenty good enough. He can win a championship. He’ll win a playoff game, and maybe more than one, next month.

By Mark Bradley

389 comments Add your comment

Steve

December 18th, 2011
2:01 pm

jjm

December 18th, 2011
2:03 pm

Can’t win a superbowl with him and so far we can’t even win a playoff game with him…he’s a above average regular season qb

Grandmaster JeJe

December 18th, 2011
2:12 pm

Rivers and Flacco? LOL

Mark Bradley

December 18th, 2011
2:13 pm

Kudos, steve.

patrick

December 18th, 2011
2:17 pm

i miss jerry glanville.

jay

December 18th, 2011
2:21 pm

Ryan has that intangible that makes him a good nfl qb.

Delbert D.

December 18th, 2011
2:28 pm

Let’s do something about that offensive line.

RomeDawg

December 18th, 2011
2:28 pm

I think Ryan is a good QB, not great. In today’s pass happy league I think you need a great QB to win. In the 90’s and early 2000’s the team with the great defense and run game won the most. Not today! It starts and ends with the QB. Look no further than Green Bay, New England and New Orleans for example. Odss are, one of those teams will be picked by most to win the Super Bowl yet none of them are great running the ball and damn sure don’t have great defenses. However, what they do have is a great QB….and that IS the difference maker!

Whopper Dawg

December 18th, 2011
2:29 pm

Not sure I agree, take out the weak sisters of Panthers and Jags and how do the stats look in the last 7 (now last 5)?

He has it all except for one thing, a very important thing. Accuracy. The elites have it, he doesn’t. That was his rap coming out of college (60%) and that is exactly where he is as a pro (60%).

A stat you overlooked – playoff games 2, playoff losses 2, bad playoff games for Ryan 2.

Let’s hope he redeems himself this year, but if you move past the last 6 quarters, there is scant reason to believe he will.

patrick

December 18th, 2011
2:34 pm

quarterbacks, quarterbacks. it all comes down to coaching. and the best coach in the world is coaching in the united football league. hartford something or another. and until he makes a magical return, we will never win the superbowl. he is the mastermind behind trading away drunken quarterback, brett favre. until we get that kind of mastery of personnel back, we will never win anything. matt ryan or not.

Hunter

December 18th, 2011
2:37 pm

26 other NFL teams would take Matt Ryan, too bad half the fans in his own town won’t. It’s bullshit. Matty Ice is the real deal. He’ll finish this year over 4k yards and 30+ td’s, with a playoff birth for the 3rd time in 4 years. I agree with Mark, the Falcons will win a playoff game this year. There’s not much more you can ask for.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:40 pm

I still don’t understand the reluctance of the AJC and it’s writers to put the blame for the Falcons offensive woes to start the season (and to start most games since then) squarely where it belongs:

ON MIKE MULARKEY.

He’s a horrible playcaller. He’s predictable, uncreative, unyielding in his refusal to use his players’ strengths in his offense, stupid in his refusal to use certain kinds of plays to offset aggressive defenses and their pass rush (hello, screen pass), and based on his interview with DOL from about a month ago, completely and utterly out of touch with reality that HE and his play calling, not the players, is at fault.

When Matt Ryan calls the plays: every play has more yards per play, Ryan gets sacked less, Turner has a better YPC average, the offensive scores more TDs in the Red Zone, the offense has more “explosive” plays, the offense has FAR less three and outs, the offense has more quick-strike TD drives, and the offense USES THE PLAYERS STRENGTHS to win… meaning there are more slant and go’s, and less outs & curls and stops, to guys like Douglas and Jones, there was that amazing wheel route TD to JaQuizz, which Mularkey would NEVER have called in a million years.

WHY is the AJC refusing to see these things? I am reminded that the AJC and the writers were also very slow to point out just how poorly Soft Willie was doing at Georgia until just before the 2009 season, his last.

NATIONAL WRITERS have been talking about how poorly Mularkey is doing as a play caller since the Green Bay and New Orleans games, games given away by the Falcons when Mularkey shut down the offense with 10-point leads. Now, Mike Smith has some blame there, too, because it’s actually his call to hand the offense over to Ryan, and he didn’t hand the offense over to Ryan until it was too late. Just like agains the Panthers… Mularkey called plays that WHOLE first half, and the offense SUCKED.

There was no flow, no rhythm to the offense in the first half of the Panthers game, and there NEVER is when Mularkey calls the plays. WHY is that STILL being ignored?

DOL refuses to talk about it, even though we’ve now moved beyond the realm of opinions and into verifiable FACT, which is something he CAN discuss as the beat writer.

WHY are the local writers ignoring Mularkey? WHY are the Falcons’ fans only allies agains the suckage of Mularkey found in Mike Silver, Pete Prisco, Mike Mayock, Don Banks, Trent Dilfer, and other reputable national NFL writers / talking heads?

Dropping the ball, AJC.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:41 pm

AJC… release my post, please. Nothing offensive about it.

R Brown

December 18th, 2011
2:41 pm

Between the ears, his leadership and his command at the line of scrimmage calling plays with the audible, I’d have to say Ryan is fast approaching elite status. However, his ability to get away from the rush and to be any kind of threat to break contain and extend plays does I believe rank him in the lower tier. Being able to extend plays allows the receivers to free themselves and keeps the second level of the defense honest. Additionally, his accuracy and arm strength are not exceptional or even middling for a professional quarterback. He tends to loft deep balls and overthrows high to his receivers. His passes also drift on sideline routes. After all that, you’d be hardpressed to believe I agree with you that we can win with MR but I do. Matt Ryan is not the next coming. Not yet at least but we can win ball games with him. We’re just waiting on him to win BIG ball games for us.

Vampire Bill

December 18th, 2011
2:41 pm

I’m just glad that he’s not a felon, got his degree and married the mother of his (future) children.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:49 pm

Okay, I’ll break it into parts:

I still don’t understand the reluctance of the AJC and it’s writers to put the blame for the Falcons offensive woes to start the season (and to start most games since then) squarely where it belongs:

ON MIKE MULARKEY.

He’s a horrible playcaller. He’s predictable, uncreative, unyielding in his refusal to use his players’ strengths in his offense, stupid in his refusal to use certain kinds of plays to offset aggressive defenses and their pass rush (hello, screen pass), and based on his interview with DOL from about a month ago, completely and utterly out of touch with reality that HE and his play calling, not the players, is at fault.

When Matt Ryan calls the plays: every play has more yards per play, Ryan gets sacked less, Turner has a better YPC average, the offensive scores more TDs in the Red Zone, the offense has more “explosive” plays, the offense has FAR less three and outs, the offense has more quick-strike TD drives, and the offense USES THE PLAYERS STRENGTHS to win… meaning there are more slant and go’s, and less outs & curls and stops, to guys like Douglas and Jones, there was that amazing wheel route TD to JaQuizz, which Mularkey would NEVER have called in a million years…

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:50 pm

… WHY is the AJC refusing to see these things? I am reminded that the AJC and the writers were also very slow to point out just how poorly Soft Willie was doing at Georgia until just before the 2009 season, his last.

NATIONAL WRITERS have been talking about how poorly Mularkey is doing as a play caller since the Green Bay and New Orleans games, games given away by the Falcons when Mularkey shut down the offense with 10-point leads. Now, Mike Smith has some blame there, too, because it’s actually his call to hand the offense over to Ryan, and he didn’t hand the offense over to Ryan until it was too late. Just like agains the Panthers… Mularkey called plays that WHOLE first half, and the offense SUCKED…

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:51 pm

… There was no flow, no rhythm to the offense in the first half of the Panthers game, and there NEVER is when Mularkey calls the plays. WHY is that STILL being ignored?

DOL refuses to talk about it, even though we’ve now moved beyond the realm of opinions and into verifiable FACT, which is something he CAN discuss as the beat writer.

WHY are the local writers ignoring Mularkey? WHY are the Falcons’ fans only allies agains the suckage of Mularkey found in Mike Silver, Pete Prisco, Mike Mayock, Don Banks, Trent Dilfer, and other reputable national NFL writers / talking heads? Dropping the ball, AJC.

R Brown

December 18th, 2011
2:54 pm

PS Mark..13-3 seasons are great and we love them and four winning seasons in a row is outstanding but zero for forever in the playoffs for MR is the legacy we want to see erased and hopefully like you say, that will change next month. If it doesn’t, the argument will continue.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:56 pm

You’ve got to be KIDDING me with this blog… what the ever-loving frak??? I’ve got three sentences and it keeps on hiding them away, and there’s no questionable language, there’s nothing that could even be construed as inciting remarks… this is b.s.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
2:56 pm

WHY are the local writers ignoring Mularkey?

WHY are the Falcons’ fans only allies against the horribleness of Mularkey only found OUTSIDE the state, from guys like Mike Silver, Pete Prisco, Mike Mayock, Don Banks, Trent Dilfer, and other reputable national NFL writers / talking heads?

When is the AJC and its writers going to open their eyes and go after the guy who’s the REAL problem on the Falcons?

Fred Sanford

December 18th, 2011
3:00 pm

Can Mark Bradley write a decent article? Nope. Is he good enough? Nope.

The Mighty Quinn

December 18th, 2011
3:23 pm

You know, there’s a QB in NFL history who won 5 NFL championships in 10 years and you NEVER hear his name in “Greatest NFL QBs in History” debate: Bart Starr. I don’t care what kind of numbers Matt Ryan puts up, as long as the Falcons win. As has been noted, Dan Marino put up other-worldly numbers through his entire career, and has no rings. Shoot, JEFF Freakin’ GEORGE rang up quite a few 400 yard games and never won anything! “Game Manager” does NOT automatically equal “Sucks.”

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:24 pm

Nobody’s talking about the Falcons. It’s all about the Saints and Packers in the NFC. Ok that’s all well and good, but nobody saw the Packers coming last season. They were 10-6, and were the 6th seed in the playoffs and got hot. You never know what will happen in the NFL. The media is often wrong. So it likely won’t be the Saints or Packers. What if it’s San Fran? What if it’s Atlanta? What if it’s Dallas? You just never know.

In order to beat the Saints next week, the Falcons MUST get pressure on Brees or it’s gonna be a long night. We’ll be on MNF, in their house, rival game, etc. Gotta bring our A game to win. The Saints are undefeated at home this season, doesn’t mean they can’t lose there. Falcons are not the Vikings, and the Falcons always play the Saints tough. They were one drop away from beating them in the Georgia Dome last time. Don’t be surprised to see the Falcons win.

History Will Teach Us if We Will Learn

December 18th, 2011
3:36 pm

We’re talking about elite quarterbacks here, not coaches or sports columnist. Mr Bradley is as good as Jesse Outlar was in his own way. Mularky gives Ryan a framework to operate and excel but he can’t play for him. Every play scores a touchdown on the chalk board, it fails when not executed or the defense doesn’t react like you thought it would. Bill Walsh proved you didn’t have to have an elite quarterback to win superbowls. He had to have guys who performed excellently in his system. Back to Mr. Bradley’s point, Matt Ryan will become elite once the Falcons invest in an O-line that keeps 300lbs D-linemen from squashing him too often.

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:36 pm

Now that the Ain’ts beat the Vikes, watch them come on here and beat their chest after beating a 2-11 team after pouring salt on our win over the Jags (who have a better record than the Vikes) all week.

Gorilla Biscuit

December 18th, 2011
3:36 pm

Vampire Bill, ditto.

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:37 pm

Gotta get pressure on Brees next week. Abraham and Edwards need to get after it. Edwards really needs to come through next week and earn his money. Abraham says he’s healthy, well let’s see it. As for our offense, run that rock with Turner and play action the Saints to death.

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:39 pm

I think the pressure that’s going to matter the most though is the pressure from Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux. If you have an inside pass rush, it’s much better than the outside pass rush because Drew Brees will just step up in the pocket if you just have an outside pass rush. But if you get some push inside, he has no where to go. Very important.

War Eagle 30082

December 18th, 2011
3:43 pm

@UGABugKiller

Dude, give it a rest…

I’ve read your posts, and no doubt, others have, too. No need to keep posting the SAME thing over and over and over. Reptition has no impact as regards to your complaints.

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:51 pm

Well, well, well, Green Bay looks human after all. They WILL NOT go to the Super Bowl. It will be someone else. Either the Falcons, 49ers, or Taints. The NFC East representative has no shot. They all suck and are bipolar. 49ers have no offense and are wearing down. Could the NFC Championship game be between the Falcons and Saints? Hmmm

Gregory

December 18th, 2011
3:53 pm

1st seed: Green Bay
2nd seed: New Orleans
3rd seed: 49ers
4th seed: Cowboys
5th seed: Atlanta
6th seed: Detroit

You can cross out Detroit, Cowboys, and 49ers. This NFC run is going to come down to the Falcons, Saints, and Packers. Never know?

DawgNole

December 18th, 2011
4:16 pm

Hunter says, “I agree with Mark, the Falcons will win a playoff game this year. There’s not much more you can ask for.”

You got that one wrong, Hunter. There’s a whole lot more you can ask this franchise for after nearly a half century without a championship.

DawgNole

December 18th, 2011
4:26 pm

One of the best things about Ryan’s emergence the second half of this season is that the racist scumbag “Choke” and his aliases have quietly exited the blogs for the most part–and retreated to their holes.

Poncho

December 18th, 2011
4:27 pm

Matt is too inconsistent to believe he’s all of a sudden turn the corner. He is not cool “Ice” under pressure that’s for sure! Saints will blitz him, he will back peddle and make a dumb decision. I hope for the Falcon’s sake that he comes prepared to play and throw accurately.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
4:31 pm

Barner,

When the AJC and its writers actually start acknowledging the person actually at fault for the Falcons offensive woes, Mike Mularkey, then I’ll stop pointing out this failing.

It’s especially noticeable, Barner, considering luminaries in the national media, like Mike Silver, Pete Prisco, Don Banks, and Pat Yasinskas have been addressing the issue regarding Mike Mularkey for weeks, yet the AJC and its writers have not.

Mark Bradley

December 18th, 2011
4:41 pm

ATLER (Ramblin Wreck)

December 18th, 2011
4:45 pm

Slow day at the AJC huh M.B. This article is useless. You knodamn well Matty isn’t near the best QB in the NFL and not even close. Win a playoff game before you start with this crap. You are about as delusional as the ugag fans.

Paul in NH

December 18th, 2011
4:45 pm

History Will Teach Us if We Will Learn

December 18th, 2011
3:36 pm
….Bill Walsh proved you didn’t have to have an elite quarterback to win superbowls
—-
That’s right. Bill Walsh had 2 completely useless QBs when he won all of those Super Bowls. Who the heck were Joe Montana and Steve Young?

Realist

December 18th, 2011
4:53 pm

Mark, the best part of that old article was the comment section, as people who know very little about football saying the Falcons season was over after just 5 games. Unreal… now, we can clinch a playoff spot before we even play our 15th game of the season. And, as the Packers showed last year, once you make the tournament, you just have to get a little hot for a few weeks.

UGABugKiller

December 18th, 2011
4:54 pm

Mark, fair enough:

But it’s moved fair past “Mularkey needs to a do a better job” to “Matt Ryan and this offense are SO MUCH BETTER when Ryan, NOT Mularkey, is calling the plays.”

And that’s the difference. You can see it. You can chart it. The offense responds to Matt Ryan calling the plays. They do NOT respond to Mike Mularkey calling the plays. If anyone is doubting that after the Carolina game, they’re just too stupid to be allowed to live. It was right in front of our faces… AGAIN. One half, Mularkey called the plays, the offense did NOTHING. The second half, Ryan called the plays, and suddenly it’s the Falcons offense we all envisioned after the Draft.

It’s not simply about Mularkey doing a poor job. That question is answered. It’s “Why is Mularkey even ALLOWED to call plays anymore?” And, “Why is Mularkey continually allowed by Smith to ruin the offense where there a MOUNTAINS of proof that Ryan is much better suited to call plays?”

The question has evolved. The coverage has not.

Indy falcon

December 18th, 2011
5:00 pm

winning championships has more to do with good things happening and a little luck than superior players at different positions such as qb. Ravens in 2000,Pats in 2003, and so forth…we can complain about anything..do we forget so fast 1998???? Was Chandler an elite qb? I think not…

Bravesfan79

December 18th, 2011
5:04 pm

Cant believe ESPN is debating on if Newton should get the last NFC QB spot over Ryan… THAT should be what were arguing today. Ryans plenty good enough to win a Super Bowl!

rm

December 18th, 2011
5:19 pm

ATLER- did you read the article…thought you techies were supposed to be smart

Hillbilly D

December 18th, 2011
5:30 pm

Today on the pre-game show, Jimmy Johnson gave his QB ratings. He said that Brady, Brees and Rodgers were the top tier. He had 4 in the 2nd tier Eli, Stafford and I forget the other two but Ryan wasn’t in there. I’d say that was about right. I’d rate Ryan below the 2nd tier but I would probably rate him as better than average. He’s good enough to win with, if the rest of the team is solid.

rm

December 18th, 2011
5:31 pm

ATLER- just try reading the title of the article. That should help you

Tom Brady

December 18th, 2011
5:32 pm

I’m just glad that he’s not a felon, got his degree and married the mother of his (future) children.

—————-

Well I guess you wouldn’t be happy with Tom Brady as the Falcons QB either because he’s got a child out of wedlock.

hiramsaint

December 18th, 2011
5:34 pm

so 0-2 in the post season is good enough?

Your Friend on FB

December 18th, 2011
5:44 pm

so when did he learn to throw the deep ball to earn this “best” title?

Your Friend on FB

December 18th, 2011
5:46 pm

Matty Ice has a noodle arm. Even Michael Vick Sorry can tell you that.