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What is driving Matt Ryan’s awesome season in 2016?

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Ryan’s as good as he has ever been, and ESPN’s Seth Wickersham has an intriguing explanation for it.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

As we all know, Matt Ryan hasn’t won an MVP award just yet, and he may not. It’s difficult to dispute, however, that he is playing some of the best football of his career, and this season looks like

We’ve all wondered what’s behind that. Many of us have pointed to an improved supporting cast, comfort in Kyle Shanahan’s now widely-lauded scheme, and the way those improvements have intersected with Ryan’s work ethic and willingness to tinker with his game.

Seth Wickersham at ESPN proposes something that I hadn’t seen anyone suggest: That Ryan relaxed.

There’s a lot of great stuff in this article, including copy about Ryan’s offseason work with a quarterback guru and anecdotes about Steve Young, but I was struck by the way Wickersham frames this piece. Over the summer, you’ll recall, Ryan gave an interview where he talked about seeing spots on the field and not worrying quite so much about reading where defenders will be, which struck many as odd and still others as downright stupid. The case that Wickersham builds throughout this piece is that it was an evolution for Ryan, a quarterback who comes off as deeply intelligent but also perhaps overly analytical, and certainly (Wickersham argues) too willing to blame himself for the team’s errors, including the 2013 NFC Conference Championship Game (which deserves and will get its own post at some point).

By letting go of the overthinking and the tendency to shoulder every loss, Wickersham is saying, Ryan freed himself up to play at the level he’s always been capable of. He builds a convincing case for that, and one that is particularly encouraging for Ryan’s long-term outlook.

What has been evident is that Ryan is not so tentative this year, as he appeared to be for long stretches in 2015, and that he’s attempting throws that he would not have made (or might have been picked off if they were) in years past. There is, to put it mildly, more than one reason that Matt Ryan is an improved quarterback this year, but this is the best case you’ll read for the primary reason being an evolution in Ryan himself.