Ryan was the most excited man within a 100-mile radius of Atlanta after the team’s management gave him the most dangerous tight end in the league. All Gonzalez did in 2008 was lead all tight ends in receptions (96), total yards (1,058), yards per game (66.1) and touchdowns (10).
Compare those numbers with Atlanta’s leading tight end last year, and you can understand why Ryan is counting the minutes until the 2009 NFL season arrives. Justin Peele led the Falcons at the tight end position last season with a whopping total of 15 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Gonzalez is the career leader at the tight end position in receptions, yards and touchdowns. But what attracted the Falcons to Gonzalez was also the fact that he isn’t afraid to block. No matter how much success Atlanta has through the air, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey knows the importance of an effective running game.
With the second-leading runner in the NFL last season in the backfield in Michael Turner, the Falcons are not suddenly going to become the San Diego Chargers of the Dan Fouts era and throw the ball on every down.
Yes, Gonzalez makes the Falcons a much more dangerous passing team; but he also will allow Mularkey to open up the playbook and create more effective holes for Turner to run through.
Last season without Gonzalez, the Falcons were a balanced football team. Atlanta ran the ball 560 times during the 2008 season, compared to 451 passing plays. Just because of the addition of Gonzalez, don’t expect the Falcons to become much more unbalanced.
While Ryan is a solid quarterback and was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, he is also only 24 years old and Mularkey doesn’t want to ask him to win every game. In Atlanta’s five losses last season, Turner only averaged 59.7 yards per game. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that when Turner is successful, so are the Falcons.
With Gonzalez in the fold to help Roddy White, look for the Falcons to throw more on first down in 2009. And because Gonzalez isn’t the “normal” tight end that is confined to the middle of the football field, he will also help the Falcons stretch defenses out and give White and Michael Jenkins more room to operate.
Last season, opponents started the season trying to stop Turner and daring Ryan and the Falcons to try to beat them through the air. With Gonzalez and with the emergence of White, that concept is not exactly sound.
How would you like to be a defensive coordinator who has the task of stopping Turner on the ground, containing Gonzalez and White through the air and trying to rattle “Matty Ice” at the quarterback position?
(By the way, that’s a rhetorical question and has no need to be answered).