June 6, 2012; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) warms up on the field during organized team activities at the Falcons training facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
I present this article for your consideration, as it is the very epitome of the way the Falcons have been treated in the press for eons now.
I don't dislike Jason La Canfora, and I don't hold him up as some example of everything that's wrong for the media. But this whole article shows a willingness to project success onto players who have not achieved it yet, and to bury another player for the same crime. It just so happens that the lack of success he's willing to harp on is the Atlanta Falcons'.
While engaging in extreme hyperbole about Cam Newton—saying an undeniably talented and driven yet flawed quarterback will be a "once-in-a-generation" player after one season stretches credulity—and praising Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, La Canfora finds some time to knock down Matt Ryan.
This isn't a surprise to you, I'm sure. But it points to yet another motivation for the Falcons in 2012: Dispelling this kind of crap.
Joe Flacco is not as good a quarterback as Matt Ryan. You can argue that he doesn't have the weapons Ryan has, and I won't dispute that. You can argue that he has a bigger arm, and I won't dispute that. But his football intelligence and his ability to escape pressure just isn't there compared to our hometown hero.
Yet the primary difference between them is that Flacco's Ravens have been successful in the playoffs, and Ryan's Falcons have not. Ryan undoubtedly shares in the blame for this, and the charge that he didn't rise to the occasion in big games is not unwarranted. With the exception of his mostly strong 2011 post-season, though, Flacco has rarely been the reason the Ravens did well in the playoffs.
Their regular season track records—larger sample sizes, I'll note—diverge more sharply. Flacco has the edge in exactly one of the traditional QB stats, yards per attempt, and there only by .1. Ryan has the equally narrow edge in completion percentage, but has also thrown for more yards, 15 more touchdowns, an identical number of interceptions and has taken 54 fewer sacks. For all the noise La Canfora and others make about Flacco's supporting cast, it's pretty clear that Ryan has dragged teams with mediocre defenses to the playoffs time and time again. Flacco has been a capable starter and a big part of the Ravens' success, but without their defense, they're mediocre.
Ryan hasn't been great shakes in the post-season, as noted, but he hasn't been demonstrably worse than Flacco. He's been a key reason the Falcons have been successful enough to get to the post-season in the first place, and he's done it with (until a year ago) only two legitimate upper-echelon receiving options. Last year, he was more successful than ever despite the worst offensive line he's ever had. He's also far from the only Falcon to come up a little small in the big game.
Is this to say that Flacco is a poor quarterback, or that Newton doesn't deserve to be lauded given his sky-high ceiling? Nope. Both are talented dudes who deserve praise. But too often, pundits become fascinated by tools or by team success and draw correlations that aren't there, giving Newton a game-changing reputation he hasn't yet earned or giving Flacco a disproportionate share of credit for the success of a very good football team. Too often, the Falcons' puzzling lack of playoff success is not chalked up to a whirling storm of team-wide poor performances, poor scheming and mistakes, but is put on the shoulders of one of the better young quarterbacks in the game today.
It's not a great injustice, not in a world so populated with them. What it is is lazy analysis, and it has given our favorite football team's signal-called a reputation I don't believe he deserves. It took decades, but a great many baseball analysts have finally gotten over the idea that pitcher wins are worth a damn as a stat, or that a pitcher can be held solely responsible for a 1-0 loss where his team gives him no run support. In football, for some reason, the quarterback win—particularly in the playoffs—still matters to men like Jason La Canfora a great deal.
The Falcons must win in 2012 for many reasons. They want to save jobs, bring honor and glory to a franchise traditionally lacking it, make a lot of long-time fans very happy and bolster their case for a new stadium. But in my eyes, they also need to win because it's time for Ryan to shake a deeply unfair label.
Do you agree?