Is Matt Ryan a top-five quarterback? Let’s see, he’s won more games over the last five seasons than any other quarterback (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have higher winning percentages, but played in fewer games). He has 22 fourth quarter or overtime comebacks in that time, the most of any quarterback since 1966. Only two quarterbacks, Dan Marino (168) and Peyton Manning (138), threw for more touchdowns in their first five seasons than Matt Ryan (127). But both threw more interceptions. Again only Marino (19,422) and Manning (20,618) threw for more yards than Ryan (18,957). But neither completed as many passes relative to his total attempts. Indeed, few have started their career as successfully as Ryan has, but few have also been as dismal in the playoffs.
To call Ryan bad in the postseason would be to call Seattle’s Richard Sherman confident. Which is to say, it’d be an understatement. Descriptions of Ryan’s postseason play are immune to hyperbole. Prior to to his performance against the Seahawks, Ryan mired the Falcons by averaging just 194 yards passing, five yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception per game. Beyond that, he made mistakes at crucial moments or failed to lead his offense to score a single point.
But that changed on Saturday, as Ryan completed 68.6% of his passes for 250 yards and three scores. Pro Football Focus graded Ryan as the best passer of the weekend, surpassing even Tom Brady. The reason: Ryan completed the highest number of passes and surrendered zero sacks to the league’s best pass defense. While one week doesn’t erase Ryan’s past playoff performances, it should at least awaken the doubters.
If this Falcons’ offense doesn’t concern you yet, it should. To find out why, we spoke with Jeanna Thomas of TheFalcoholic.com. In addition to contributing to The Falcoholic, Thomas is a self-employed independent production coordinator for television. She resides just outside of Atlanta with her husband, a lifelong Packers fan, their two teenage daughters, and one spoiled dog. If you’re not opposed to Falcons’ content, follow her on Twitter.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): ESPN ranks Matt Ryan as the fourth best quarterback, ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Ryan is tied with Peyton Manning for completion percentage. He’s fifth in touchdown passes thrown. He doesn’t take sacks. Despite this stellar resume, he’s not mentioned with the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Manning and Rodgers. Should he be? Why isn’t he already?
Jeanna Thomas (JT): Since the 2010 season, in which the Falcons went 13-3, secured the top seed in the NFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, then lost in a spectacularly horrible fashion to the Green Bay Packers as chants of “Go Pack Go” echoed throughout the Georgia Dome, there has always been an element of “but, he can’t win in the playoffs,” to any discussion of Matt Ryan. Because this playoff failure narrative has become so endemic in the national media, I’m not even certain that Sunday’s win over an excellent Seahawks team will be enough to shift perspectives, but I hope so, because I truly believe Ryan has earned the right to be recognized for his accomplishments without the qualifier about postseason success.
EBSG: Because of the speed of Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons are largely seen as a one-dimensional, vertical passing team. Yet, despite this perception, the Falcons’ offense and Matt Ryan rank in the middle of most deep passing stats (54 plays of 20+ yards or more and only 10% of passes are of the 20+ yard variety). How would you define the Falcons offense? How might they attack the 49ers on Sunday?
JT: Thanks to the speed of Roddy and Julio, as well as Harry Douglas, the Falcons certainly always have the ability to burn defenses with the big play. But, the arrival of Atlanta’s current offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, in the 2012 offseason, brought an element to the Falcons offense that had been sorely lacking previously — the screen game. The Falcons were wildly successful on screens this regular season, completing 89.6% of attempts, good for third in the NFL, and topping the league with six touchdowns on screen plays. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez is also incredibly reliable, and is most frequently targeted for shorter yardage, with 56 receptions of passes for a 1-10 yard gain. I would define their receiving offense as very versatile.
EBSG: The Falcons run game is largely unheralded, but it played a large role in Sunday’s playoff game. What do Michael Turner or Jacquizz Rodgers bring to the offense and which runner should the 49ers be more concerned about on Sunday?
JT: Turner and Rodgers are very different backs. Turner’s effectiveness had certainly appeared to diminish this season, and Falcons fans were as surprised as everyone else at his performance against the Seahawks on Sunday. Turner’s a big, powerful runner, and if he gets some forward momentum, he’s very difficult to bring down. Jacquizz Rodgers, on the other hand, is shifty and quick, but is also very physical for a player his size. Just ask Earl Thomas. Both Turner and Rodgers can also be a factor on screen plays — Turner caught one against the Panthers in Week 4 and took it 60 yards for a touchdown.
Thanks again to Jeanna Thomas for participating. Stay tuned for Thomas’s discussion of the Falcons’ defense, as well as her description of Jim Harbaugh.