Flowery Branch – Matt Ryan changed his offseason workout regimen. Some interpreted this as the quarterback’s admission that he needs a stronger right arm. Sure enough, we watched the Falcons’ first two exhibitions for signs that Ryan was indeed throwing harder and longer. Sure enough, we thought — kind of, sort of — we saw such indications.
Which only makes Matt Ryan shake his head at the power of perception. Ryan has no idea if his right arm (or his left, for that matter) is markedly mightier, nor is he of the opinion that he was ever lacking in that area. “I kind of trained different,” he said, speaking after Monday’s practice. “I got a little heavier. I moved some weight from one place to another.”
From, say, his left hip to his right shoulder?
Said Ryan, laughing: “From fat to muscle.”
Then: “It’s a total-body thing. I just wanted to get a little bit stronger. And I feel great.”
Those in search of hand-wringing angst need not approach Matthew Thomas Ryan. He won’t apologize for his four seasons as a Falcon, and he shouldn’t. His team has won 43 of the 65 games he has started, and his career winning percentage (.662) puts him on a par with Aaron Rodgers (also .662) and ahead of Drew Brees (.599), Eli Manning (.592) and Michael Vick (.578).
The difference being: Rodgers, Brees and Manning have won Super Bowls, and Vick led the Falcons to the NFC championship game in January 2005. Ryan is fully aware of his playoff record (0-3), but he doesn’t give the impression of someone given to night sweats at the memory of an interception he threw against the Packers. “From my perspective, [the playoff 0-for] is what it is,” he said. “It’s the nature of the league. … All I can do is do everything I can to give [the Falcons] another chance.”
There are reasons to believe the next chance will finally bear fruit. At 27, Ryan is a fully blooded professional. The offense around him has been tailored to him. Of even greater significance is the arrival of coordinator Dirk Koetter, who apparently sees in Ryan not a rookie fresh out of Boston College, but an NFL quarterback capable of doing all the things NFL quarterbacks must do.
Speaking of Ryan during June minicamp, Koetter said: “He has everything you want and more.” If two exhibitions are any measure (and exhibitions aren’t always a measure of much), the new coordinator plans to unleash Matty Ice. In those two practice games Ryan has thrown 34 passes, completing 27 for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
The whispers inside the building at 4400 Falcon Parkway is that a team that often seemed plodding under Mike Mularkey will plod no more, that Koetter’s intent is to throw first and get around to running the ball later. Asked if such a transformation is indeed in the works, Ryan lapses into the Ryan version of radio silence, meaning he politely dodges the question.
“It’s perception,” he said. “We had certain games last year when we passed to set up the run. Games dictate how things go.”
Also: “I think we played pretty fast last year. I respectfully suggest that we did do well in our tempo packages [meaning no-huddle looks].”
About Mularkey: “I was very fortunate to play for Mike. He helped me a ton those four years.” That said, Ryan conceded that working with Koetter offers “the benefit of a new set of eyes,” which is kind of the point.
Ryan on the new coordinator: “There has definitely been some constructive criticism. I’m not going to go into details, but we spent a lot of time together over the offseason. He’d ask me what am I comfortable doing, and he’d watch a lot of film and give me his assessment … Sometimes he’ll tell me that I do something very well, and other times he’ll say, ‘You might be giving yourself too much credit there.’”
It’s no understatement to suggest that this is a key year for the Falcons and their quarterback. Both have done well these past four seasons, but both feel the need to do more and to do it soon. But if Ryan indeed propels this team to postseason glory, it won’t be because he spent the winter turning into Charles Atlas.
He reports his current weight at 220 pounds. What was he last season? “Two-fifteen,” he said, and then he laughed again.
His point being: There’s no magic formula that will conjure up a Super Bowl run. There’s only hard work. The good news is that Matt Ryan has always been a hard worker. He’ll get there soon.
By Mark Bradley