Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
Those are the only four quarterbacks, through 12 weeks of the 2014 NFL regular season, who are ahead of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in overall passing. The Falcons’ signal-caller is averaging 279 passing yards per game, and he’s completing 65 percent of his passes.
And he’s doing it with constant pressure from opposing defenses and no time to think – much like he has been for the past two seasons.
While the Falcons may still sit in first place of the historically-bad NFC South with a 4-7 record, there’s no doubting Atlanta’s mediocrity. All you had to do was watch the way the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line pushed them around last Sunday to see that it pays to spend years building an important foundation, instead of wasting big draft picks on flashy players.
And had the Falcons built a decent o-line over the last half-decade, Matt Ryan would easily be the best quarterback in the National Football League.
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He might make mistakes at times, but if Ryan’s this good with no time to think, imagine how dominant he’d be with a pocket to protect him. Imagine what could happen if he were given time to carve up defenses instead of having to become a scrambler out of necessity.
At 29 years old (seriously, he’s already 29!), Ryan won’t be getting any more athletic from here on out. He’s in the prime of his career, and the Falcons are nowhere near a Super Bowl. The rebuilding project that’s about to begin could take three or four years, if we’re thinking optimistically, but will likely take longer. This isn’t Major League Baseball, where Arthur Blank would be able to drop millions on whoever he wanted; There’s a salary cap, and unfortunately, big-name offensive linemen demand a big chunk of it.
So the Falcons are back to building through the Draft, likely with a new general manager and head coach. I’m confident that they made a smart pick with Jake Matthews this year, who has been a solid rookie despite a lingering high-ankle injury, but they’ll need to do it again next year. And again the year after that.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Ryan’s skills are by no means declining. If Ryan can stay healthy through the constant onslaught of blitzing linebackers, he’ll be a terror on defenses when the pieces are finally in place that can help him be truly special.
Also, consider another pretty good quarterback in the league who took a really long time to win his first championship: Peyton Manning didn’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy until his ninth season in the NFL.
But the 2015 season will mark nine years in the league for Ryan, and Falcons fans have to be getting worried that Matty Ice’s window for league dominance will be closing soon.