Thrilled. Ecstatic. Relieved.
Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times last season. Worse than that, Atlanta’s offensive line also allowed 42 hits on Ryan and 190 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Those 264 pressures were more than any team in the NFL.
Ryan was battered last season. He was rushed, hurried and unceremoniously pulled down with regularity. Matthews is going to be leaned on as the sixth overall pick in the draft to put a stop to that, at least to a certain extent.
Matthews played in 52 games while at Texas A&M, starting the final 46. He started 13 games last season at left tackle after starting 33 on the right side the years prior. During his time reigning on the Aggies’ line, Matthews collected 369 key blocks/knockdowns and recorded 65 touchdown-resulting blocks, according to Dave-Te’ Thomas of Scout.
From Week 1 of the 2014 season the Falcons need Matthews to bring that same success rate to their franchise, which only won four games last year.
The current situation in Atlanta at offensive tackle isn’t great. Sam Baker underwent left knee surgery last season after playing only four games at left tackle. According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Baker expects to be cleared for full duty in early May.
Lamar Holmes played 13 games at left tackle and three on the right side. According to Pro Football Focus, Holmes’ pass-blocking efficiency was one of the worst in the NFL—ranked 56 of 58 among offensive tackles who played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps. Holmes gave up 10 sacks and 76 total pressures.
Once training camp begins for the Falcons, expect Matthews to fight for, and win, the starting right tackle spot, with Baker starting on the left side. Holmes would be the odd man out in that situation, fighting for reps in a rotational role.
Moving Baker to the right side hadn’t been considered when D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with head coach Mike Smith in November of last season.
“I’m sure that I can do whatever they need me to do,” said Matthews. “It goes back to playing either right or left tackle, or whatever style it is or whatever technique they want me using. I feel confident I can do anything.”
Since the final whistle of the 2013 season everyone—from team owner Arthur Blank all the way down through the ranks of the Falcons’ front office and coaching staff—has mentioned or hinted at the fact that Atlanta needs to get mean and nastier along the offensive line.
Along with Ryan being sacked 44 times, the 2013 offensive line didn’t open many holes for its running backs. The Falcons finished dead last with only 77.9 rushing yards per game. Matthews believes he can bring that new attitude to the line.
“Aggressive. I’m the kind of guy that knows what it takes to finish,” said Matthews when asked about his style of play. “At the same time I’m not overly aggressive, [in] doing something stupid. I think I’m a big technician. I take a lot of pride in what it takes to play offensive line.”
He’s going to have to prove that quickly when he joins the Falcons. In wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, Ryan has the offensive firepower to light up scoreboards. But not if he’s on his backside. Matthews is one of the most technically sound, NFL-ready linemen in the draft.
That’s good news for Ryan.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand via video conference from Flowery Branch, Ga., on May 8, 2014, shortly after Matthews was drafted in New York City.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die. Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.