Matty Ice is still learning

With how exceptionally well he played as a rookie last year, it’s easy to forget that Matt Ryan only has 24 career starts under his belt.

Ryan did some great things in the Falcons’ 35-27 loss to the Saints on Monday night, most notably throwing a 68-yard rainbow to Roddy White to cut New Orleans’ lead to 28-21 early in the third quarter. He also found White and Tony Gonzalez on some key third downs to keep the chains moving and leave the Saints’ dynamic offense on the sidelines for most of the second half.

But he also made some mistakes that second year quarterbacks are unfortunately prone to making. Things like zeroing in on Gonzalez or forcing a pass into a well covered White late in the first half that led to a huge defensive touchdown for the Saints. He also looked rushed in the pocket at times and took a couple of unnecessary sacks because he didn’t go through all of his progressions. For a young man who has built the reputation of having ice water in his veins, “Matty Ice” looked uneasy several times when the Falcons needed a big play in the passing game.

Atlanta got a tremendous effort out of Michael Turner tonight, who rushed for 151 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown. With how well he ran, Ryan should have had more big play opportunities in the passing game. But it seemed like most of his throws were to covered receivers that couldn’t do much with the pass after the reception (save for White’s 68-yard touchdown, of course), which means he wasn’t hitting receivers on time or in stride.

Give credit to the Saints’ defense, because there were several times when the coverage was outstanding and Ryan had to eat the ball. The interception he threw in the fourth quarter was just a great play by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who tipped the pass that was picked by Tracy Porter to kill a potential scoring drive. Defensive end Will Smith also owned left tackle Sam Baker, so Ryan was under constant duress.

But I think when Ryan looks back at the film from tonight, he’ll see that he had more opportunities to make plays and was either too quick to make up his mind or wasn’t patient enough to let the play develop. From what everyone says, his work ethic rivals that of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning and he wants to become great. He’ll get there – he certainly has all the intangibles. But if the Falcons are going to make the playoffs again this year, Ryan is going to need to learn from a game like this and move forward in his development.

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