Maybe Matt Ryan will silence some of his doubters with a spectacular showing in 2014.
Until then, folks will continue debate Ryan’s standing among the league’s top quarterbacks. The $100 million man’s status became a hot topic of conversation this offseason after retiring teammate Tony Gonzalez said Ryan wasn’t quite in the elite category of quarterbacks along with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Gonzalez maintained his comments weren’t meant as an insult to his close friend.
ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who served as president and general manager of the Indianapolis Colts during the Manning years, knows all about being around an elite quarterback. And Polian believes firmly believes Ryan is right there.
``I think he’s a Super Bowl (win) away from being elite,’’ Polian said recently. ``He’s very close.’’
Brady, Manning, Brees and Rodgers all have Super Bowl rings, with Brady winning three. Ryan, who is preparing for his seventh NFL season, is 1-4 in playoff games. He fell short of the Super Bowl during the 2012 season when the Falcons lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 28-24, in the NFC Championship Game.
In dissecting Ryan’s overall game, Polian doesn’t see many flaws.
``I like his release, I like his arm strength, I like his accuracy, I like his touch,’’ Polian said. ``I like his poise. I like his ability to extend plays. And I like his toughness.’’
Ryan showed his toughness last season while playing all 16 games and not complaining about being banged-up. 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. Ryan also led the league with 702 dropbacks.
The Falcons hope bolstering the offensive line with burly right guard Jon Asamoah and possibly a top offensive tackle prospect in the draft will help keep Ryan upright and allow him to play at a high level. Of course, the return of top receiver Julio Jones from foot surgery should only help the cause. But Gonzalez will be impossible to replace, which is why the Falcons need to establish more offensive balance with a strong running game.
If Ryan consistently performs like he did in last year’s loss at San Francisco -- when he picked apart one of the league’s best defenses to the tune of 348 yards and two touchdowns while completing a career-high 38 passes (47 attempts) and being sacked just once -- maybe the Falcons will be closer to being Super Bowl contenders than some might believe.