Before the NFL season began, I had the Atlanta Falcons as a shoo-in for the playoffs. I expected Julio Jones to step up immensely as a receiver and I expected Asante Samuel to help improve Atlanta's secondary. As a matter of fact, a good majority of NFL fans considered the Falcons to be playoff contenders. But there weren't many football fans that expected a 6-0 start from the Falcons, let alone have their quarterback Matt Ryan as the main reason for the fast start.
The Boston College alum's numbers for 2012 have been very impressive so far. His completion percentage this season is 67.8%, six points higher than his career average. He's thrown for 1,756 yards and 14 touchdowns through six games and is on pace to throw for 4,683 yards and 37 touchdowns for the year. His current rating is 98.8, currently a career high for Ryan. Indeed, this is turning out to be a monstrous season for Atlanta's franchise quarterback.
Atlanta's offensive attack has always been anchored by a strong running game, i.e. Warrick Dunn or currently Michael Turner. But Turner only has one 100-yard rushing game this year (Week 4 against Carolina; ran the ball 13 times for 103 yards). Instead, head coach Mike Smith is making the most of Matt Ryan's receivers. Tight end Tony Gonzalez (430 receiving yards, including a 123-yard game against Washington in which he caught a touchdown) and wideouts Roddy White (553 yards) and Julio Jones (376 yards) are all projected to produced at least 1,000 yards receiving this year. All three have been equally targeted as well with each receiver thrown to 53-54 times so far and catching four touchdowns each. If there's one thing about Mike Smith's passing strategy, it's that spreading the production amongst the receivers will make it harder for opposing secondaries to effectively cover all three Falcons targets.
Ironically, Matt Ryan only has two 300-yard passing games in his six starts this season. As a matter of fact, last Sunday's game vs. Oakland was one of his worst for the year. He went 24 for 37 for 249 yards (with a completion rate of 64.9), but had a rating of 59.4 and threw three picks. Atlanta still won the game 23-20 on a last-second 55-yard field goal from Matt Bryant. But Atlanta still has a few tests to pass this year if they want to end the regular season undefeated.
Luckily for Atlanta, there's only a few of these tests this season. One of them is in the City of Brotherly Love, where they'll take on Nhamdi Asomugha and the Philadelphia Eagles. Another tough test will come at home against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in week 15. The next week, Atlanta will go on the road to the Motor City for a Saturday Night matinee against the Lions. Matt Ryan might have to become "Mighty Matt Ryan" in these games. But if Ryan goes on playing the way he has so far, then that might not be a problem.