Atlanta Falcons: What Are the Realistic Predictions for Matt Ryan in 2012?
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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has enjoyed an impressive career so far in the NFL. From being named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, to leading the Falcons to an NFC South crown in 2010, to breaking the franchise record for most passing yards in a single season in 2011, there’s little he hasn’t done to be considered among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
Still keeping Ryan from earning that title, however, is the 0-3 playoff record to his name as he enters his fifth season in the league.
With the most recent of those losses—a 24-2 Wild Card loss to the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants—now a thing of the past, it’s time to look ahead at what’s to come for Ryan and the Falcons.
For some, the many changes made on the coaching staff and in terms of the roster have considerably lowered expectations for Ryan this season. For others, those very same changes make this year his last chance to prove he can get it done in the playoffs.
So what can be realistically predicted for the Birds’ signal-caller this season?
Simply put, the best season of his career.
And here’s why.
It starts at the top with the replacement of Mike Mularkey with Dirk Koetter at offensive coordinator, which will put less emphasis on the running game and more on Ryan’s ability to throw the ball—effectively putting him at the forefront of the offense.
Koetter is currently in the process of installing a four-verticals attack in Atlanta, giving Ryan more opportunities to take his chances in the air than was allowed in Mularkey’s limit-the-turnovers, control-the-clock offense.
Also, star receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are back and perhaps better than before with another season under their belt and a gameplan set to highlight their explosiveness with a lot more screen passes headed their way this year.
Much to Ryan's delight, second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers figures to play a significant role in that gameplan as well. He’ll look to put his pass-catching abilities on display a lot more this year with the Falcons looking to reduce Michael Turner’s carries in 2012.
If Rodgers is able to make plays like this on a consistent basis, Ryan should have a lot more dependable options at his disposal this season.
And let's not forget about future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, either. Koetter played an integral part in turning Marcedes Lewis into a Pro Bowl tight end while coaching for the Jacksonville Jaguars; just imagine what he'll be able to do with arguably the best of all time.
Of course, all of the above means little unless Ryan has time to throw the ball, and that’s one thing he should be worrying about a lot less than in years past.
Will Matt Ryan Improve Upon His 2011 Campaign?
What was Atlanta’s Achilles’ heel on offense in a 2011 campaign that saw Ryan sacked a career-high 26 times looks to be one of its biggest strengths heading into this season after beefing up the line with the acquisition of guard Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes in the draft.
Guiding their development is new offensive line coach Pat Hill, whose no-nonsense style should bring back a mean streak that disappeared following the departure of guard Harvey Dahl via free agency in July of last year.
As for Ryan himself, he has consistently improved in each of his four seasons in the league, and there’s no reason to believe that trend won’t continue in 2012.
This offseason alone, Ryan has put in extra hours in the weight-room, adding noticeable muscle to his body and bettering his conditioning in hopes of being at his best physically.
Of course, that isn't to say he's putting any less time working on the mental side of the game. Known to spend endless hours in the film room, Ryan continues to study not only the 2011 performances of such quarterbacks as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, but his own as well, in hopes of correcting his mistakes and learning from the league’s best.
All that being said, statistically it would seem reasonable to foresee Ryan finishing the regular season having thrown for 4,300 yards through the air with a 63 percent completion rate along with 34 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions for a 94.0 QB rating.
But what matters most is how he'll fare in the playoffs if the Falcons get there this year, and it would certainly appear as though the pieces are in place for Ryan to finally accomplish in 2012 what has escaped him all these years: a postseason victory.
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