One of the surprises in the first six weeks of the 2016 season has been the bounce back of the Atlanta Falcons. At 4-2, the Falcons are in first place in the NFC South and look like a team poised for a return to the playoffs. One of the biggest reasons for that is the play of Matt Ryan, who is having a great 2016 campaign after two average seasons in 2014 and 2015. Atlanta has already defeated Oakland and Denver on the road and were two points short from doing the same in Seattle last weekend.
Despite throwing for 4,694 yards in 2014 and 4,591 yards last season, Ryan was a disappointment for the Falcons. He threw 14 interceptions in 2014 and 16 in 2015. Interceptions have always been a problem for him, with 2009 being the only season he threw fewer than 11. So far this season, Ryan only has three interceptions and has coupled that with 15 touchdowns and 2,075 yards through six games.
Ryan and star wide receiver Julio Jones are operating in complete sync, but Ryan has not forced the ball to Jones unnecessarily, something he had done in previous seasons. Ryan has been using the entire field along with not locking onto Jones, and the results have been excellent. Not only did Jones and Ryan team up for a 300-yard receiving game, but the offense as a whole has been better. They have moved the ball well in key spots against good defenses and have had point explosions against others.
Ryan has also been more accurate this season and has not made as many high-risk throws as he had in the past. As stated above, interceptions have been an issue for him, so limiting the amount of interception worth passes is a major plus. Ryan has thrown well on the move this season, which has helped him in games against teams with strong pass rushers, such as this play against Oakland.
No one is initially open for Ryan to throw to, but rather than force a throw or take a sack, Ryan is able to move up in the pocket and eventually break from the pocket. Rather than take off running or look for a quick safety throw, Ryan realizes he has extra time and stays patient. In the NFL, patience can be defined as only waiting an extra split second, but on this play Ryan does and he finds an open receiver. He delivers a great pass for a 44-yard gain.
Ryan has also performed well against good competition this season, having strong games against both Denver and Seattle. Few quarterbacks can get through back to back games against Denver and Seattle and still look an MVP candidate, but he has. This level of play against strong competition on the road is a good sign for Falcons’ fans who have too many times seen their team falter in January.
There is still a long way to go this season, but the first six games have shown that the Falcons belong in the conversation of contenders. Their quarterback has also shown that he belongs among the upper-echelon quarterbacks in the league. Things can change, but Atlanta appears to be on the rebound after a tough last couple seasons and on their way to a deep playoff run.