Nov 17, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith talks with quarterback Matt Ryan (2) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
A few days ago, former Atlanta Falcons Tight End Tony Gonzalez said the following about Matt Ryan…
"Matt’s an excellent quarterback, but hes he’s not elite. He’s this close. He’ll get there, but he has some learning to do."
While Gonzalez definitely knows Matt better than any of us, his comments are not what you would expect from someone who has seen firsthand the adversity that Ryan has faced these last several months. Ryan is elite, and it doesn’t take a genius to see why.
In 2013, Ryan played behind a muddled offensive line that had both LT Sam Baker, and RT Mike Johnson on injured reserve for the majority of the season. If that doesn’t already sound like a disaster, C Peter Konz and RG Garrett Reynolds both ended up either being moved, or benched. The Falcons line had one stable cog in Justin Blalock, but obviously one man alone cannot block an entire defense. Ryan finished the 2013 season being sacked 44 times (a career high), and hurried a staggering 206 times. With Ryan attempting 651 passes, 32% of his attempts were hurried.
Don’t forget, while Ryan had to throw behind this line, two of his top targets were sidelined with injury. Roddy White suffered a preseason ankle injury that lingered literally all season, and Julio Jones was placed on IR after a screw came loose in his foot during a Week 5 matchup against the New York Jets. Slot-Receiver Harry Douglas performed admirably with his first 1000 yard season, but that is just a shell of the production brought by two of the leagues best wideouts in Roddy and Julio.
To add to the nightmare, Atlanta’s run game ranked dead last in the entire NFL, as Steven Jackson missed a sizeable portion of the season due to a thigh injury. Even when Jackson returned, the Falcons line struggled in giving him adequate run blocking, resulting in a virtually dead phase of the Falcons offense. Regardless of who was in the backfield, the run game was never able to alleviate pressure from Matt Ryan, leaving the offense predictable, and allowing opposing defenses to focus solely on defending the pass. Similar to a bird flying into a windshield, the Falcons run game was hitting a wall.
Even with all of these factors, the 6th year signal-caller still finished with over 4500 yards, and a 67% completion percentage (good enough for a top 5 ranking). Gonzalez, of all people, should have considered the circumstances that Ryan was presented with. Pundits and fans of other teams can poke fun at Ryan’s playoff record all day, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Football is a team sport. It takes 53 men, to come together, and accomplish a single goal of winning the Lombardi Trophy. While Ryan obviously didn’t have his best year, he wasn’t the reason for the 4-12 record, and is definitely an ELITE player at the quarterback position.