Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons Are Flying Under the Radar in 2010

Kimberley NashSenior Writer IAugust 10, 2010

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the offense during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

2009 was supposed to be a big year for Matt Ryan. By all accounts, his stellar rookie campaign (2008) set the bar high in Atlanta. Most predicted, at worst, a 10-6 season and a possible playoff berth. Others were pegging the team as a sleeper pick for the Super Bowl.

Well, as it turned out, the New Orleans Saints had a little more to say about that than most gave them credit for and they took the NFC South by storm. They rode their offense and that gigantic chip on their shoulders all the way to their first ever Super Bowl Championship.

The Saints are now the darlings of the south—leaving the Falcons looking like the little team that couldn't.

This off-season, there has been virtually no conversation about the Falcons or their multi-talented quarterback. People seem to be content to believe that the team will return to its usual level of mediocrity and the Saints will continue their dominance of the NFC behind the stellar coaching of Sean Payton and the talented arm and leadership of Drew Brees.

So, what happened to the Falcons? Why have they suddenly lost all of their luster again? Are they really doomed to fall back into the rut of being 'nothing special'? After all, it did take them more than 40-years to register back-to-back winning seasons.

That fact aside, bad breaks were a big part of why the Falcons didn't live up to expectations in 2009.

They drafted defensive tackle Peria Jerry in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He was supposed to be the guy who solidified the Falcons on the interior line while also becoming a much-needed compliment to John Abraham—the team's exceptional defensive end and 2008 sack leader. Jerry didn't make it through the second game of the season. He sustained a major knee-injury and was lost for the year.

Michael Turner was the workhorse in 2008, carrying the ball 376 times for 1,699 yards. He was expected to show that same type of production in his second full season with the team. However, he was slowed by injuries. Compound that with the fact that Turner would later admit that he was out of shape in 2009—causing him to lose a step.

A lackluster rushing attack meant more time to focus on the passing game. Defenses turned their attention to Ryan and the result was a Matt Ryan that seemed a lot more human.

Although he still put up respectable stats, the second-year QB found himself in a lot more situations where he was either hurried or pressured to make a play—which led to more interceptions and a lower completion percentage.

Add to that a toe injury, sustained in week 12, which seemed to linger, and you have the recipe for a team that appeared to collapse under the weight of their own hype.

2010 will not be the same ol' song.

Ryan is ready to get back to the business of being the leader of this team. He's focused and ready to be better than he was last year. He took the time to study tape of himself and find out where he needed to make improvements in 2010 and he feels that the foundation is in place to be a force in the NFC South. 

Michael Turner has slimmed down and, according to reports, he's back to his 2008 form. That bodes well for the Falcons as they will depend on his talents to open up the passing lanes that Ryan will need to make smarter plays on first and second down.

Ryan has taken his lumps. He went through his "sophomore slump" and he hit the proverbial "wall". This year he can focus on being the guy that no one is really talking about at all. Expectations, at least on a national level, are low. No one is looking for him or the Falcons to do much of anything and, as far as Ryan is concerned, that's just fine.