It genuinely seems like yesterday that Matt Ryan was drafted, but the Falcons’ franchise quarterback will be entering his 12th NFL season in 2019. The league he entered was one where running backs where still highly valued—recall the big deal the Falcons threw at Michael Turner, and his massive role in making Ryan’s first few years a success—and a league in which rule changes and conditioning changes had not yet begun to transform the way teams played defense.
Last week, Ryan was in the mood to wax nostalgic a bit and talk about how the NFL has changed, and I wanted to wrap a few of them together because it’s interesting to see it laid out from his perspective.
The biggest difference, as Ryan alluded to early on in his remarks, is how defense increasingly limited by stringent rules have overcome that by becoming bigger, faster, and generally more fearsome. You may have to drive a quarterback to the earth with a sonnet on your lips and a pillow behind him, but if you can shove your way by a hapless lineman and close the gap in microseconds, you’re doing a nice job of overcoming that particular challenge.
“Obviously, the league’s much different than it was 12 years ago when I got here. The style of defense, the size of guys — I think you’re seeing more athletic defenses.”
Those changes have forced quarterbacks to adapt. In Ryan fashion, he preferred to talk about the ways he’s improved his general standing as a QB and teammate, but also mentioned conditioning and taking care of the ball specifically.
“I’m always looking at how I can become a better quarterback, a better teammate, a better leader.”
I think we’ve come a long way in the last 12 years in terms of taking care of ourselves.”
Of course, the evolution in Ryan’s game has become evident over the last three seasons, when he’s played an MVP or borderline MVP level twice. Ryan’s mobility, decision-making, and timing have all significantly improved, to the point that he’s thrown a career low number of interceptions (7) in both 2016 and 2018, and might have done so again in 2017 had it not been for literally eight unbelievably fluky interceptions. Ryan’s also had two of his best three yards per attempt years from 2016-2018, has tossed a full third of his career touchdowns in those three years, and has snagged an MVP along the way despite facing challenges that have included a limited ground game and shaky blocking up front at times in that span. He’s a demonstrably different quarterback than he was even back in 2012, the last time he and Dirk Koetter worked together.
With new pass interference review rules in place and Ryan entering the (hopefully lengthy) twilight years of his career, we’ll see how much further he evolves in the next 3-5 seasons. Hopefully there’s another level he has yet to unlock, no matter how much the change evolves around him.