Some teams need their quarterback to do well, others are based on their running game. Last season, the Falcons needed Michael Turner to dominate to pull of wins, eventually stopped, once again, in the first game of the postseason. Monday night against the Broncos, it was a combination of Matt Ryan efficiency and defensive interceptions that paved the way to a 2-0 start to the season.
Is Matt Ryan an elite quarterback? Until he wins a postseason game, then no. But Ryan has what it takes to be great, including that one receiver that’s his favorite target in the end zone. All the great quarterbacks, except for Tom Brady probably, have a receiver synonymous with their success. Is Roddy White that kind of receiver? I’m not sure, but some numbers don’t lie. Since Ryan began his NFL career in 2008, he has thrown 35 touchdown passes to White, more than any other QB-WR combo; More than Rodgers and Jennings (34); more than Rivers and Gates, more than Manning and Wayne, something that’s come to an end.
Two games into the season, Ryan still hasn’t thrown an interception. He keeps going to the play action, as the Broncos, like most teams, figure that Michael Turner is the first option on the play board. Turner had a bad night, going for 42 yards on 17 carries; The Falcons ran for only 67 on 28 plays. But when just one section of your offense clicks, having a defense that pretty much closed out the game in the first half is a welcome addition.
Ryan struggled with interceptions through the first two seasons. Since 2010, he’s 62-21 in the TD-INT ratio. Still not perfect, but helped by very good blocking, Ryan is reading plays better and simply playing smarter. A good defense and a smart quarterback is always a great combination for wins. Michael Turner having such a slow start (74 yards in the first two games on 28 carries) is something to worry about in the future, not right now, when the Falcons are picking up wins without him.
Is this the best team in the NFC South? Record says yes, and the jumbled up New Orleans Saints, despite Drew Brees, look nothing like a team that can contest that claim this season. The Carolina Panthers are about Cam Newton and nothing else at the moment, while the Bucs shouldn’t be a bother as the season continues, unless Greg Schiano is some kind of miracle worker.
In a season that has so far been mostly about the NFL officiating situation and Roger Goodell’s battles with Jonathan Vilma, it’s nice to see a team fly under the radar because there’s nothing too impressive or flashy about them. But this is a group that’s been playing together for five years, waiting for Ryan to take the next step from good to great. The numbers don’t show it, but nights like these suggest that the day isn’t too far ahead into the future.