Ryan en­joy­ing ca­reer re­vival

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA >> Matt Ryan leads the NFL in touch­down passes, rat­ing and just about ev­ery sig­nif­i­cant pass­ing cat­e­gory this sea­son.

The stren­u­ous off­sea­son train­ing pro­gram and the throw­ing coach the Ex­ton, Pa., na­tive was asked about Wed­nes­day haven’t helped him ex­cel any more than the an­nual va­ca­tion he spent with his family in Wild­wood, N.J., or the visit to Penn Char­ter High, his alma mater, to ad­mire the school’s new track and football field.

Af­ter all, ev­ery NFL quar­ter­back trains hard. And Tim Te­bow had the same throw­ing coach as Ryan, who op­poses the Ea­gles Sun­day at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field.

Ryan al­ready had pedi­gree, hav­ing guided a Fal­cons team with Julio Jones to an NFC-best record of 13-3 in 2012. What Ryan

hasn’t had again un­til now is a run game. It’s no co­in­ci­dence the Fal­cons av­er­age a league-lead­ing 33.1 points and 429.2 yards this sea­son, the lat­ter good for sec­ond in the league.

Here’s some NFL trivia for you: Which quar­ter­back has com­pleted the most passes in his first nine NFL sea­sons? You’ve got it, Matty Ice.

“We’ve had a lot of guys make plays,” Ryan said on Wed­nes­day’s con­fer­ence call. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We’ve been spread­ing the ball around in the pass­ing game and a lot of peo­ple are get­ting in­volved. A lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple are get­ting touches. And we’ve run the ball re­ally well, too. I think that sets up ev­ery­thing for us. If we can get the run game go­ing and get our run­ning backs in­volved it makes the de­fense de­fend ev­ery­thing. And we’ve done a good job of that so far this year.”

The ground game is a prod­uct of an of­fen­sive line an­chored by Alex Mack (64, 305), a Pro Bowl tal­ent who toiled with the Cleve­land Browns. Mack has been in­stru­men­tal in sta­bi­liz­ing a Fal­cons of­fen­sive line that al­ways seemed to be held to­gether with duct tape.

“He’s been a huge ad­di­tion for us,” Ryan said. “He’s a great player and had been in Cleve­land for a long time. But he’s also re­ally helped our guys in terms of prepa­ra­tion and mak­ing calls and ex­e­cut­ing at the line of scrim­mage. I think he’s made ev­ery­body around him bet­ter, too, which has re­ally helped us. He’s done a great job this sea­son.”

Even though Ryan throws the ball 59 per­cent of the time, run­ning back Devonta Free­man (5-8, 206) is on track for 1,100 rush­ing yards. He av­er­ages 4.7 yards per carry and has 28 re­cep­tions. Tevin Cole­man (5-11, 206), who was banged up last week, has five rush­ing touch­downs.

The Fal­cons line up with a full­back, which isn’t go­ing to make it any eas­ier for an Ea­gles de­fense that has to dou­ble-team Julio Jones.

The 6-3, 220-pound Jones has 51 re­cep­tions for a league-lead­ing 970 yards and five TDs. Jones plays as fast his 4.42 time in the 40yard dash at the com­bine. He av­er­ages 19 yards per grab.

Ea­gles safety Mal­colm Jenk­ins, while with the New Or­leans Saints, bat­tled Ryan twice an­nu­ally. Jenk­ins re­mem­bers how ef­fec­tive Ryan was with run­ning back Michael Turner in the back­field.

“That’s when he was re­ally good as well,” Jenk­ins said of Ryan. “It was the same thing — two-back for­ma­tions and 12 per­son­nel. Play ac­tion passes. They’re do­ing a lot of the same stuff now. So when­ever he’s paired with a re­ally good run game, he’s got all of the skills.”

In 2012, Ryan owned the NFC. The Fal­cons rolled into the play­offs with the top record in the con­fer­ence and de­feated the Seat­tle Sea­hawks in the di­vi­sional round of the play­offs. They were one com­ple­tion from the Su­per Bowl when Ryan, on fourth-and-four at the 10-yard line of the 49ers, couldn’t con­nect with Roddy White late in the con­fer­ence fi­nal. It was game, sea­son and the be­gin­ning of a per­sonal hell for Ryan, as Turner didn’t re­turn and the of­fen­sive line of the Fal­cons failed to open holes.

The Fal­cons went 4-12 in 2013 and 6-10 the next year, one capped by the fir­ing of head coach Mike White.

Sea­hawks im­port Dan Quinn ar­rived last year and guided the Fal­cons to wins in five of their first six games be­fore re­al­ity set in. The Fal­cons fin­ished 8-8.

Th­ese Fal­cons are 6-3 and ready to play pound and ground, if nec­es­sary, as they last played one week ago Thurs­day.

This is the Matt Ryan the Ea­gles (4-4) re­ally don’t want to see.

“Well, I feel good,” Ryan said. “I think (of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor) Kyle (Shana­han) has done a re­ally good job this year in terms of our game plan and get­ting us pre­pared dur­ing the week,” Ryan said. “Other than that I think we’ve been com­fort­able, we’ve been con­fi­dent and we’ve been mak­ing plays.”

Ryan is 3-2 against the Ea­gles, in­clud­ing 1-2 at the Linc. He’s com­pleted 69.6 per­cent of his at­tempts with just four in­ter­cep­tions and a league-lead­ing 119.0 passer rat­ing this sea­son.

Armed with a ground game, he’s back.

“I would say he has a re­ally con­fi­dent feel to him,” Quinn said. “When you see him on the side­line, he’s just ready to stay in that mode to go into at­tack. He has a great be­lief in the guys around him.”

JEFF HAYNES — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ex­ton na­tive Matt Ryan looks to throw a pass for the At­lanta Fal­cons against the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers last Thurs­day.

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