Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco: The Great 2008 Debate

Sean O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 27:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after tossing a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Georgia Dome on December 27, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The careers of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will forever be compared because of their first round pedigrees.  Matthew Thomas Ryan was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Falcons while Joseph Vincent Flacco was drafted 18th overall by the Baltimore Ravens.

Both went on to take their respective teams to the playoffs in their first season.

Their paths to stardom, however, were far different.

Ryan was drafted to be the day one starter.  He was thought to be the quarterback who would bring the Falcons back from the dead to become contenders, in a few years.  Instead, his first NFL pass was a touchdown and he would help instantly transform the Falcons into winners during a season in which many thought they would win only one game.

Flacco was drafted to sit on the bench for a year or so and learn so he could one day step up as the starter.  Instead, injuries and a tonsil infection led to "Bazooka" Joe being thrust into the starting role from day one.  He went on to have a solid first season even though most experts viewed him as a bit raw coming out of Delaware.

Let's take a look at some of the basic stats first:

In 30 games started, Matt Ryan has compiled a 20-10 record, leading Atlanta to its first back-to-back winning seasons.  He has thrown 38 touchdowns and 25 interceptions in his two-year career.  Ryan has completed 528 of his 885 passes, good for a career completion rating of 59.7 percent. 

Ryan is 0-1 in the playoffs, his only game a 30-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  Ryan completed 65.0 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in that game.

Joe Flacco has won 20 of his 32 starts.  He has thrown 35 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his career, completing 572 of his 927 passes, good for a 61.7 completion percentage. 

Flacco is 3-2 in the postseason, with wins over Miami, Tennessee, and New England and losses to Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Flacco has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions during those five games.

Now let's look past some of the basic bread and butter stats and try to dive deeper.


In the Clutch

Matty Ice has had seven game-winning drives in his 30-game career. 

In 2008, he led his team on game-winning drives in four games: a 27-24 win over Green Bay, a 22-20 win over Chicago (which included a fourth quarter comeback), a 13-10 win over Tampa Bay, and a 31-27 win over St. Louis (also a fourth quarter comeback).

In 2009, Ryan led his team on game-winning drives in three games: a 21-14 win over Chicago, a 10-7 win over the New York Jets (including a fourth quarter comeback), and a 20-10 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs.

When the game was within seven points in the fourth quarter, Ryan has completed 88 of 149 passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.


Bazooka Joe has had  four game-winning drives and two fourth quarter comebacks in his 32-game career.

In 2008, Flacco had two game-winning drives: a 37-27 win over Cleveland (which included a fourth quarter comeback) and a 13-10 win over the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs (the only playoff game Flacco has thrown a touchdown in).

In 2009, Flacco had game winning drives in a 38-24 win over Kansas City and a 20-17 win over Pittsburgh (fourth quarter comeback).

When the game was within seven points in the fourth quarter, Flacco has completed 97 of 154 passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Prognosis: Who do you want when you're behind?  Cool Matty Ice.


Against the 3-4

Matt Ryan is 4-2 against teams that run a base 3-4 defense, throwing for nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

Joe Flacco is 10-5 against 3-4 defenses, throwing for 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Both have 2:1 win-loss ratios against this defense but Ryan's TD-INT ratio against it is 3:1 as opposed to just under 2:1 for Flacco.

Against the 4-3

Matty Ice is 10-7 against teams that run a base 4-3 defense, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Bazooka Joe is 9-5 against the 4-3, throwing 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

Matt Ryan has played in more games against the 4-3 and has a +7 turnover differential vs. Flacco's +4.

Against the Tampa 2

Ryan is 6-2 against the Tampa 2 defense, throwing eight touchdowns and eight picks.

Flacco is 1-2 against the Tampa 2 defense, throwing four touchdowns and four picks.

A toss up here, Matt Ryan has played in more games but their turnover differential is the same.


Arm Strength

Watching game tape on these guys, its clear that Joe Flacco has the bigger arm and better down-the-field accuracy.

Edge - Flacco



As shown previously, Flacco is 2 percent more accurate than Ryan.

Edge - Flacco



Ryan has missed two games because of injury, Flacco hasn't missed any.

Edge - Flacco



Ray Lewis leads the Baltimore Ravens, and even though Joe Flacco has become more vocal he still isn't the heart and soul of the Ravens like Matt Ryan is to the Atlanta Falcons.

Edge - Ryan



As evidenced by his fourth quarter play and the ability to bring his team back and lead them to their first ever back-to-back winning seasons, Ryan has superior intangibles. 

Edge - Ryan


Overall analysis:

You know, I was actually hoping to write this article to prove that Joe Flacco was the better quarterback.  Now that I've done the research, though, I have to give the slight edge to Matt Ryan.

The quarterbacks are extremely close in most statistical categories.  Flacco has the size, arm strength, and durability.  Ryan has the intangibles and leadership.

Just ask Tom Brady what intangibles and leadership can do for you.

I'll take Matt Ryan any day of the week.