The Falcons continue to be tickled pink with their drafting of quarterback Matt Ryan in 2007.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith likes to call quarterback Matt Ryan “one tough Irishman.”
Ryan sidesteps the praise, saying he’s “just another football player.”
But the quarterback is still playing at high level despite absorbing more hits through seven games this year than he did in each September and October of his first three seasons.
Thankfully, he and the Falcons are coming off a bye week and the season’s first winning streak.
“Quarterbacks get a lot of notoriety,” Ryan said. “People’s eyes are always on you, and they kind of see those things a little more so than other positions, but that’s par for the course in our locker room. We’ve got a lot of guys who, week in and week out, grind through a lot of different things and show up on the field. So I’m just trying to do like everybody else.”
When the Falcons (4-3) visit Indianapolis (0-8) today, Ryan hopes to stay upright for an entire game. He’s been sacked 18 times this season, a considerable departure from the steady protection he had in his first three seasons.
Ryan is getting sacked once every 15 passing attempts. From 2008-10, he was sacked once every 25.7 attempts.
In a victory two weeks ago at Detroit, the Falcons unintentionally inflicted some pain on their franchise star when left tackle Will Svitek stepped on Ryan’s right foot in the pocket. Ryan crumbled to the turf and lay writhing for a couple of minutes on his back before walking to the sideline under his own power.
He wasn’t clear if Ndamukong Suh or other Detroit defenders were making fun of his condition, as Falcons center Todd McClure said after the game, but Ryan doesn’t seem to care.
“I can only speak for what I heard, and when I was on the ground I was probably yelling some things that shouldn’t have been yelled, too, at myself,” Ryan said with a smile. “I didn’t really hear anything over the top of it, but you’ll have to ask the other guys.”
Regardless, he missed only two snaps, jogging briskly onto the field in the next possession and converting a third-and-8 with a 49-yard pass over the middle to Harry Douglas. The drive ended with a field goal that gave the Falcons a 20-9 lead in the third quarter.
Smith loves Ryan’s resolve.
“It kind of sent a message,” Smith said. “Matt’s a tough guy, a very competitive guy. It says a lot about Matt, but it’s also a positive and a great reinforcement for the rest of the guys on the team.”
Against Indianapolis, the Falcons will play their first game this season without Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli, who is on season-ending injured reserve following knee surgery. Jason Snelling, a second-string running back behind starter Michael Turner, has replaced Mughelli. Svitek will make his second straight start at left tackle as Sam Baker recovers from a back injury.
Atlanta could get a boost, however, if rookie receiver Julio Jones, the NFL’s No. 6 overall draft pick, returns after missing two games with a strained left hamstring.
The Falcons have won two straight without Jones.
“I think certainly bringing him back this week — you get a feel for what a guy can do — and his upside is unbelievable,” Ryan said. “I think he was getting better week to week and I’m sure he’ll do that when he gets back out there.”
Atlanta’s offense has yet to play an entire game without some hiccups. Red-zone efficiency and third-down percentage aren’t among the concerns as the Falcons rank fourth and sixth in each category. But they’re lagging in yards per play (21st), net yards passing per play (24th) and scoring average (17th).
Perhaps it was the long NFL lockout and the shortage of team activities during the offseason, but Ryan still isn’t pleased with how many mistakes the offense is making.
“It’s preparation and really honing in on having good attention to detail so we don’t have mental errors out on the field,” he said. “When you prepare really well, it allows you to be confident going out there on Sunday. For me personally and for our offense, that’s where our focus needs to be.”