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