When the Atlanta Falcons drafted QB Matt Ryan with the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft it was a sign of where they wanted the franchise to go. They were coming off of a difficult 2007 season that saw their All-Pro face of the franchise QB Michael Vick sentenced to 18 months in prison. Matt Ryan was handed the keys to the car from Day 1; however he was not alone in his endeavor. The Falcons also signed RB Michael Turner in the same off-season with the hopes of alleviating some pressure off their rookie quarterback and having a balanced offensive attack.
Ryan settled in beautifully in Year 1 throwing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading Atlanta to the playoffs.
Turner returned the favor as well rushing for 1,699 and 17 touchdowns.
The future was bright in Atlanta, with Ryan forming a formidable combination with Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White while Turner bruised opposing defenses. The 2009 season was a disappointment for the team as a whole when they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Ryan increased his touchdown tally to 22 in the second year.
2010 saw a Ryan post career highs in pass attempts, yards, touchdowns and yards per game. Ryan threw for 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the Falcons back to the playoffs. Turner also maintained his high level rushing for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Heading into the 2011 season the expectations were extremely high for the Falcons. Ryan and Co. did not disappoint. Ryan again set career highs in passing yards with 4,177 yards and touchdowns with 29. Yet again Turner was an elite running back with 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Throughout his time with the Falcons Ryan has become “The Guy” for this team and his arsenal of weapons has steadily improved. All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez was brought in before the 2009 season. Julio Jones was drafted last year and followed with an outstanding rookie campaign. He and White look to form one of the better 1-2 wide receiver combos in the league.
Dating back to his rookie season in 2008, discounting the 2009 season that most saw as an aberration, Ryan has seen his pass attempts increase every year from 434 in 2008 to 571 in 2010 and 566 last season. His passing yards have gone from 3,440 in 2008 to 4,177 yards a year ago. The same can be said for his touchdown throws as well with his 29 touchdown throws last season a career high. On the flip side of things Turner has seen his rush attempts decrease every year since his 2008 debut. In 2008 he had 376 carries for a hair under 1,700 yards. In 2010 he posted 334 carries and that was followed by 301 rush attempts last season. Turner is still a very good running back, as evidence by his 1,300+ yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago, but he also is a player that thrives on a lot of touches. Turner needs 25 carries a game to break the big one. He has to be the focal point of the offense in order to implement his bruising running style. It’s clear what direction the organization is taking and they have steadily become more of a passing team. Do not be surprised to see more of the same this season in Atlanta.
If Ryan continues his growth and can find a good balance with all his targets good things are on the horizon for this team and in all likelihood they are going to be getting to their destination via Ryan Airlines. Strap in and enjoy the ride.