Matt Ryan: Can he recover or is he on the decline?


Matt Ryan is in the midst of his most erratic season of his 8-year NFL career. How he plays in the next four weeks will hint if he can fully recover or if he is truly on the decline.

Through his first seven seasons as the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan has led his team to the NFC Playoffs four times and to the 2012 NFC Championship. Before his arrival as the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons had made the NFC Playoffs eight times in franchise history and the NFC Championship only twice before (1998, 2004).

Matt Ryan through seven NFL seasons made the Pro Bowl on three separate occasions and has already surpassed Falcons great Steve Bartkowski as the most prolific passer in Atlanta Falcons history. Ryan for the previous three seasons was universally considered at Top 10 quarterback in the NFL.

-= Related: Atlanta Falcons: 5 reasons for the 5-game losing streak =-

Ryan showed he had the command of the no-huddle offense like Peyton Manning. He could orchestrate game-winning drives like Tom Brady. He was unbeatable at home like Drew Brees. Matt Ryan wasn’t on the same level as Brady, Brees, or Manning, but he could do similar things of those three. The Atlanta Falcons believed that one day the team could win a Super Bowl with Matt Ryan under center.

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While his only head coach as a professional in Mike Smith, the winningest head coach in Atlanta Falcons’ history, had to go after two consecutive losing seasons in 2013-14, it hurt the most to see former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter go as a result of Smitty’s firing.

Seeing Koetter finally having a running game in Tampa Bay leaves Atlanta Falcons think about all the things that could have been. Matt Ryan looked his best in Koetter’s Air Coryell offense and it was a shame to see it go to a division rival.

Atlanta had a ton of problems the last two years, but the passing attack was never the issue. That and superb special teams play were really the only two aspects of the 2013-14 Atlanta Falcons that were watchable.

With the Dan Quinn Era officially underway less than 72 hours after Super Bowl XLIX, it ushered in a new brand of Atlanta Falcons football, one that would emphasize three key characteristics: speed, length and grit, all buzzwords of Quinn, not including “it’s all about the ball.”

Since Quinn built his name on defensive tenacity as opposed to offensive prowess, he would have to find a trustworthy offensive coordinator, ultimately going with former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Shanahan Zone Blocking Scheme is one of the better known rushing attacks in all of football. Anywhere Kyle or his father Mike went, their teams could run the football. It is no different in 2015, as both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have looked infinitely better than anything the Falcons have had since prime Michael Turner (2008-11).

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  • The ZBS and the West Coast offense was supposedly going to make things easier for Matt Ryan under center who had no running game under Koetter and arguably the worst offensive line in football over a two-year stretch in 2013-14. Both have been vastly improved in 2015 under Shanahan, but Ryan has regressed as a passer and Atlanta Falcons fans can’t seem to grasp why.

    Falcons fans have pointed fingers at anything and everything during the team’s current five-game losing streak. It’s been especially frustrating as most of these losses have come through self-inflicted mental lapses resulting in turnovers, rarely ever getting blown out in any loss.

    Sometimes the answer is so painfully obvious that we don’t want to admit it. If the offensive line and the running game has looked better than it has in at least three years, the defense is rapidly improving in most areas outside of pass rush, and the special teams are still better than average and you’re still losing, then it’s time to look at quarterback play.

    I’m not saying he’s hurt. I’m not saying he’s in decline. I’m not say that we need to consider starting backup quarterback Sean Renfree. However, something is strangely off with Matt Ryan. He’s not throwing with conviction. Many of his passes are of the telegraphed variety. The Falcons aren’t efficient in the red zone or on third down in the passing game. Some fans are starting to turn on Matty Ice and he is dealing with his first real test of adversity in Atlanta Falcons’ uniform.

    During his first five years in the league, Matt Ryan didn’t have to assert himself as the best player on his team for it to have success. He had Michael Turner in his prime to hand the football off to, Roddy White in his prime, Tony Gonzalez in his last five years of a Hall of Fame career, and an emerging superstar in Julio Jones on offense. He was great in a supporting role.

    However once the team faded fast in 2013, Ryan had to become the best player on the team and Atlanta has been a sub-.500 team ever since (16-28). Maybe it’s the pressure he puts on himself? Could he have bit off more than he could chew in the first year of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, saying, “Don’t worry. I got this.”? Is he fighting through a nagging injury than only Flowery Branch knows about?

    Whatever it is, Matt Ryan’s play in 2015 is ultimately costing the Atlanta Falcons an opportunity at making the NFC Playoffs. At 6-6, Atlanta will need some lucky breaks to claw its way back into playoff position.

    Regardless of if the Atlanta Falcons are playing the NFC North winner in the cold on Wild Card Sunday or not, how Matt Ryan handles the continued adversity of the next two weeks hint if Matty Ice can ever lead the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl victory. His past success indicates that he can, but his current problems are rapidly changing that perception.

    Next: Atlanta Falcons: NFC Power Rankings, Week 14

    Atlanta doesn’t have to win, more than Matt Ryan has to get himself right in the final quarter of the 2015 NFL season. If he can’t, Atlanta will enter 2016 with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position, a stance the football team rarely finds itself in. Let’s hope that Matt Ryan can make the necessary adjustments these next four weeks. Rise Up!