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Enemy Lines: Matt Ryan

Posted Oct 17, 2013

The Falcons are 1-4 and coming off consecutive home losses for the first time since Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, but the Atlanta QB remains as productive as ever and he's keeping his team focused on the task at hand

  • Despite two straight losses, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has a career 34-7 record in games played in the Georgia Dome
  • Ryan's 100.9 passer rating in 2013 is currently a career high, despite injuries to several key Falcons offensive players
  • With an unexpected 1-4 record, the Falcons are staying focused on the immediate task at hand
Three weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons were returning from Miami after a 27-23 heartbreaker against the Dolphins, a loss that dropped the defending NFC South champions to 1-2.  Despite that rougher-than-expected start and a growing injury report, the Falcons were still in a relatively comfortable position in the playoff race, for two main reasons: Matt Ryan was still upright and the next three games were at home.

On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy insisted that Ryan is one of the NFL's "elite" quarterbacks.  Indeed, Ryan has thrown for more than 20,000 yards in just five-plus seasons, he owns a stellar career passer rating of 91.6 and he's coming off a 4,700-yard, 32-touchdown season.  Where Ryan goes from "elite" to "downright scary," however, is in his performance in the Georgia Dome.  Coming into this three-game home stretch (sandwiched around last weekend's bye), Ryan had a career 34-5 record at home for a ridiculous .872 winning percentage, with a home passer rating (.964) nearly 10 points higher than his road mark (.877).

So the Falcons had reason to remain confident as they settled back in at home in Week Four.  And then, for the first time since the then-rookie Ryan took over as the starter in the 2008 season opener, the Falcons lost consecutive home games.  A pair of AFC East teams, the New England patriots and New York Jets, invaded the Georgia Dome and escaped with two very hard-fought victories, putting the Falcons in a 1-4 hole that now looks more problematic in a division that has seen New Orleans race off to a 5-1 start.

However, that gloomier division picture – one the Buccaneers share with their 0-5 record – hasn't changed the Falcons' attitude, according to Ryan.  That's a common thing for a struggling team to say, of course, but it's easy to believe coming from Ryan and his teammates, given the sustained success Atlanta has had in recent seasons.  The Falcons have won two of the last three division titles, have posted a winning record for five straight years and have been to the playoffs four times since 2008.

“I think we approach it the same way we do every week," said Ryan, whose current 100.9 passer rating is the best of his career.  "You know you have to win. Regardless of where we’re at now or where we’ve been at in the past, I think that mindset hasn’t changed. I think it’s always been we’ve got to prepare to win this week. We can’t worry about whether it’s good or bad, we can’t worry about anything down the line. We’ve got to take care of this week. Because we consistently had that mindset and that approach around here, I don’t think anything changes.”

QB Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to four playoff appearances in the last five years
The threat Ryan poses in the Georgia Dome hasn't changed, either, although the Buccaneers did hang one of those rare home losses on the Falcons the last time they visited, in the 2012 regular-season finale.  Ryan's fellow offensive difference makers have been dropping rapidly – Julio Jones is out for the season, Roddy White has been hampered all year with an ankle sprain and Steven Jackson hasn't played since Week Two with a thigh injury – and a reworked Atlanta offensive line has taken heat for its inconsistent play.  Still, there's Ryan with a six-to-one TD-INT ratio, a 72.5% completion rate and 7.85 yards per pass attempt in his three home games this year.

Worse yet for Atlanta opponents, of which the Buccaneers are next on Sunday in the Georgia Dome, Ryan is not at all satisfied with the Falcons' offensive production.

“Obviously, first and foremost your expectation is to get the job done and, so, like I said, we moved the ball pretty effectively, we’ve done some things pretty well, we just haven’t scored as many points as we need to," said Ryan.  "When you’re on the offensive side of the ball, that’s what it comes down to. You have to score points. You can throw all the other stats aside –you've got to find a way to put points in the end zone and to put points on the scoreboard. From that standpoint, I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job yet.”

Neither Jackson nor White practiced on Wednesday and there's a good chance neither one will be available to catch passes from Ryan on Sunday.  Ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez is still there for Ryan and coming off a 10-catch game against the Jets, but the Falcons' current receiving corps features the less well-known likes of Kevin Cone, Drew Davis and Brian Robiskie.  Fifth-year man Harry Douglas, formerly the number three receiver, figures to be one of Ryan's favorite targets, and running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have produced well in Jackson's absence.

"it’s always tough to replace those guys, there’s no doubt about it because they all are extremely talented players," said Ryan of Jones, White and Jackson.  "In this league, that’s kind of the way it goes. There are times when guys get nicked up and roles change and guys need to fill in and play well. I think we have had guys step up this year. I think Harry Douglas has done a great job for us through five weeks, filling in and playing probably a bigger role than he has in the past for us. I think Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling are two guys that have stepped up and filled in the void while Steven’s been out and they’ve done a great job for us. I think you have to try and put those guys in the best position to be successful too. I think our game planning has done – we’ve done a great job of putting those guys a position to succeed and we need to continue to do that.”

Though they pale to some of the potential distractions that have surrounded the Buccaneers this year, the Falcons certainly didn't expect to be answering questions about bloated injury reports and a .200 winning percentage at this point in the season.  Ryan says such issues can't change his team's approach as their division rivals come to town this weekend.

"I think everybody’s mindset is taking it one game at a time, taking it one day at a time and trying to prepare ourselves during the course of the week to give ourselves a chance to play well on Sunday," he said.  "That doesn’t change regardless of what our record is. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that our veteran leadership in this locker room has provided throughout the last five weeks; you just have to keep your head down and keep working, stay positive. I think for the most part our locker room has done that.

"I think guys are still hungry,  guys know there’s still a lot of football to be played and that if we just continue to handle our business one week at a time, we’ll look up at the end of the season and see where things fall."