- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was rather obvious how much Matt Ryan was banged around during the 2013 season.
The physical beating the $100 million Atlanta Falcons quarterback absorbed didn't go unnoticed by Arthur Blank. The team owner explained the situation from his perspective.
"It wasn’t easy," Blank said of watching Ryan get pummeled. "I think it wasn't easy for his teammates, I know that. I saw the stress that it put on them. They were trying to protect him. They weren't always able to do it consistently. That's not to say they didn’t do it at all. They just weren’t able to do it at the level that they would like to do it."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan led the league with 204 dropbacks while pressured -- sacked, forced to scramble, hit while throwing, or put under duress -- with the next closest quarterback being Seattle's Russell Wilson with 184. The league average was 122.
Ryan also led the league with 702 dropbacks, so he obviously had more opportunities to get hit. Blank talked Monday about the team's goal to return to a more physical, power style of football featuring the running game, and that is no doubt a product of wanting to establish more offensive balance so Ryan doesn't get abused.
"I think Matt is a tough kid from Philadelphia," Blank said. "He's a great face of our franchise. He's a great franchise quarterback; a tremendous talent. But he's mentally tough and physically tough. So, I was impressed with how he used those two attributes really throughout the year to get himself up, emotionally and physically, to continue to play at the levels that he did play at this year."
Sure, Ryan might have avoided a major injury, but that didn't make it any easier for the team to watch.
"It was hard for me," Blank said. "It certainly was hard, I'm sure, for his wife and family as well. Very hard for his teammates, I'm sure. … When players see other players get hurt or stressed or put under extreme punishment, if you will, then they feel some responsibility. They feel badly about it. I can tell by body language and words, comments after the game, where his teammates felt they let him down; or, for that matter, when he let them down.
"It's not just one way. Matt had a fair number of turnovers this year. He would be the first to say in some games, he probably pressed more than he probably would have liked feeling the weight of this team on his own back which, in a sense, is to his credit. But in a sense, it's not a good thing, because you end up making some decisions that are not always the best decisions. So it was a difficult year, I think, for all of us, including Matt, and certainly the folks that tried to protect him."
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons address those protection issues. Left guard Justin Blalock was the only consistent performer on the offensive line, and even he had noticeable troubles, at times. Blank said the Falcons are likely to address offensive or defensive line issues with their first-round pick --- currently No. 6 overall -- and getting a tough offensive tackle to protect Ryan’s blind side would appear to be the priority.
Although Blank said the team will spend to upgrade the roster, he also balked at the idea of making a splash by adding a high-priced free agent. However, the Falcons might have to spend if they want to keep Ryan healthy. Relying on a rookie offensive lineman just might not cut it.