Ryan Will Take Rookie Bumps in Atlanta
by Trevor Whenham - 08/27/2008
You didn't have to have a PhD in football to figure out that Matt Ryan was going to be the starting quarterback sooner rather than later in Atlanta. After all, with all due respect to Chris Redman and Joey Harrington, the Falcons don't have a lot of other options. They've paid a fortune to Ryan, they've based their marketing around him, and he is obviously the future of a team that desperately needs to forget about the recent past. What has been a bit of a surprise, though, is how quickly and seemingly effortlessly Ryan has adapted to the NFL. Other teams with quarterback uncertainty like Baltimore, Kansas City and Chicago have had to hold their breath as no one has really looked like they want to be starter. Ryan, on the other hand, has looked and played like a seasoned, established starter right from the start.
Ryan has appeared in all three games for the Falcons so far, but has started just one (so have Redman and Harrington - the team determined from the start that each would get a chance). He has clearly seen the bulk of the action, though. His 52 pass attempts are one more than the other three players in camp (D.J. Shockley is also there) combined. He has completed 32 of those passes, for a nifty 61.5 percent completion rate. He has two touchdowns and just one interception. His best game was his most recent, so he is definitely moving in the right direction.
Ryan is the starter for now. That means that as sports bettors we have to figure out how to handicap that. It's up to you to determine for yourself how you are going to react to the Falcons early on, but here is a collection of thoughts on the subject to get you started:
1. Adversity - Ryan has looked pretty good so far, but it's not always going to go that well for him. He hasn't always faced the best defensive players teams have throw at him, and he certainly hasn't faced a full defensive playbook with all the tricks and wrinkles that he has never seen before. When he does he is going to find that he isn't the golden boy he may think he is. It has been a long time since Ryan has faced any real adversity. His team mostly overachieved in his senior year, he rocketed up the draft rankings, and he's rich and healthy. We don't know how Ryan will react when things start to get a bit difficult for him. And they will. Last year he played a sloppy game against Florida State and the Eagles suffered their first loss despite being favored by a touchdown. Ryan didn't rebound well - he played another sloppy game against Maryland, against touchdown underdogs, and the Eagles lost again to knock themselves out of the national title picture. Ryan passed a ton in both games, but he made costly errors and didn't look like he was in command. He'll have to do better as a pro. That's a tall order - he's a rookie, and rookie quarterbacks don't generally make a habit of sustained good play.
2. His team is just not that good - No matter how well Ryan adjusts to the NFL, the unavoidable fact is that his team just isn't that good. They have some strengths - most notably the running game led by Michael Turner. They also have a whole lot of weaknesses. This is a team that was 4-12 last year, and they aren't in a rapid rebuilding mode. Ryan's receiving corps is certainly not going to be the scariest one opposing defenses face. The defense has strengths, but it isn't consistently scary. It's going to be a rough road. Whatever expectations you have for Ryan have to be tempered by the fact that he plays for a team that was 4-12 last year, and which didn't have to underachieve particularly to reach that mark (they were 8-8 ATS, so they were pretty much exactly the team that the public thought they were).
3. Public will over-react - The public is going to go wild for Ryan. They will bet on him way more than they should, and, at the very least, that will rob the Falcons' lines of any potential value. In the public's minds a college star is instantly going to be a pro star, and no amount of proof to the contrary can make them think any differently. Comparisons are already being made between Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. Their styles of play are different, but people like to point out that Roethlisberger was very successful as a rookie, so Ryan could be too. The difference is that Big Ben joined a decent team full of talent which just two seasons earlier had gone 10-6 and won a playoff game. Two years ago the Falcons finished the season 2-7 in their last nine, and they were just as hopeless as they are now.