Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By JOHN MANASSO  |  Last updated 10/23/13
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- From his team's record it might not look like it but Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan might be having his best season as a pro.Six games in, the Falcons are 2-4 and enduring the worst start to a season during Ryan's and head coach Mike Smith's six-year tenure. But with so many key skill position players out and an offensive line that has looked shaky at times, one can only wonder where the Falcons would be without Ryan playing among the best in the NFL.After last Sunday's 31-23 win over Tampa Bay, Ryan is coming off the highest single-game passer rating of his career, 148.4 (158.3 is a perfect rating) and among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts this season Ryan ranks third in the league at 105.9 behind Denver's Peyton Manning and San Diego's Philip Rivers.Since he dipped statistically in his second season -- when the Falcons opened up the playbook and, critically, were hit by a spate of injuries to key players such as Michael Turner -- Ryan's quarterback rating, which measures efficiency, has increased every season: 91.0 in 2010, 92.2 in 2011, 99.1 in 2012 and 105.9 this season.Ryan earned honors on Wednesday as NFC Offensive Player of the Week for this three-touchdown performance."I think Matt did an outstanding job -- that's probably one of the things that was most impressive about last week -- was he went through his progressions and distributed the ball to the guy that was open," Smith said, as Tampa Bay took away tight end Tony Gonzalez, who finished with a season-low two catches.This season Ryan has thrown 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions, including none in his last 88 pass attempts. He is on pace for career highs in touchdowns (35 over last season's 32), attempts (650, which would exceed 2012's 615), completion percentage and yards. With 1,922 yards through six games, he could exceed the magic 5,000-yard mark, as he has averaged 320 per game, putting him on track for 5,125. Last season he led the league in completion percentage at 68.6 and he's even exceeding that at 70.1 percent, which ranks third in the league."I think experience has a lot to do with it," Ryan said of his increasing efficiency. I think understanding our offense better than I ever have and understanding defenses probably better than I have helps in that gradual process. I think it's hard work, too. You've got to focus on getting better all the time. You can't get lackadaisical or complacent with that. You just have to keep working at it and that's one thing I've tried to do throughout my career."Ryan has accomplished this while missing a slew of key starters. Through six games, the Falcons have played with starting running back Steven Jackson for little more than one game, have had four-time Pro-Bowl wide receiver Roddy White at far less than 100 percent because of a lingering ankle injury and last week played without both White and Julio Jones. Jones was leading the league in receptions but was lost for the season on Oct. 7 with a foot injury. In addition, starting left tackle Sam Baker has been hampered by injuries and has missed half of the Falcons' games so far.Falcons left guard Justin Blalock, who has played in front of Ryan since Ryan's rookie season, said because of Ryan's six years of experience, it's hard for defenses to fool him."Yeah, all those things," Blalock said. "You've seen a lot of things. You've seen certain disguises. You might become familiar with coordinators even, if you're around long enough. He certainly has a knack for finding the open guy."On Wednesday, Ryan discussed how Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles formerly worked with Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in Miami and so some of what the Cardinals do is similar to the scheme Ryan sees daily in practice. Ryan was asked if the Cardinals defense was similar to the one that Philadelphia ran last year, as Bowles served as the Eagles interim coordinator when the Falcons faced them.Ryan, who seems to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of defenses, said he had yet to watch the tape of last year's Philadelphia game but that, "We've gone back through a lot of the different stuff and (the Cardinals) are a little bit different, though, from my quick observation from what we faced in Philadelphia last year, just because of personnel."While the Falcons offensive line has received its share of criticism this year, forcing Ryan to get rid of the ball quickly, the Falcons have managed to allow the fewest sacks in the league (nine). A lot of the credit for that goes to Ryan. When the Falcons played the New York Jets, Jets coach Rex Ryan said Matt Ryan was getting rid of the ball on average in about two seconds."Obviously, he's doing a very good job," Blalock said. "It's been that way for some time now. He studies incredibly hard and generally knows what's coming beforehand. There's a lot that goes into that number besides just offensive line play."Blalock mentioned running backs and tight ends that help to block against the pass rush and outside receivers making the right hot reads when the blitz is coming."So a lot of things have to happen for him to stay upright more than he's not," Blalock said. "The type of guy he is, he knows all those issues beforehand."Ryan deflected individual responsibility when asked if he would try to lead the Falcons out of their early season mess. But if it happens, he is sure to play the leading role.Asked if this has been Ryan's best season, Blalock said he wasnt sure. But he is sure of one thing."I know if it's Sunday, I turn around and he's back there, we got a chance," he said.
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