FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan is comfortable calling his own plays. He showed it at specific times throughout his MVP season.
Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn pointed to one aspect in particular that illustrated Ryan's comfort level at directing the offense himself, and how former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a comfort level in allowing Ryan to have such leeway.
"Matt and Kyle did some of that this year with some of our two-minute stuff,” Quinn said of the no-huddle. “It's something that Matt was really familiar with that he had in the past. And he brought it up to Kyle, and Kyle changed what he was doing. Good for him, because Matt was really comfortable. I think that's your clearest example of that.”
Maybe the simple solution to keeping the flow of the current offensive scheme is to let Ryan have even more authority with the playcalling. It's not that easy, of course, but there is some validity to Ryan having more freedom as he makes a transition to a new offensive coordinator.
Quinn made clear that the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator to replace Shanahan, the new San Francisco 49ers head coach, would be more about Sarkisian adapting to the current scheme implemented by Shanahan: an offense based on an outside zone run-blocking scheme with play-action passes off the run plays. Ryan mastered the scheme in Year 2 and earned himself NFL MVP honors and his first Super Bowl appearance.
Quinn expanded on Ryan being the type of player who can take the offense and run with it, essentially like an offensive coordinator on the field.
“Guys that we would assimilate in those conversations around the league are Eli [Manning], and Aaron Rodgers, and [Drew] Brees, and [Tom Brady], so of course Matt is that,” Quinn said. “When you get to that spot where you can really articulate, 'This is the call I like, this is what I want to attack here,' he's 100 percent at that level. Fortunately, that's a cool spot to be in for us. When you can get to that level professionally where the play -- not that he knows more than the coach -- but he can talk in a way to a coach that he doesn't have to beat around the bush.
“Some players might be, 'I like everything.' No, you don't. So we're fortunate that Matt's able to really have a clear vision. You have to go through a couple of systems. You have to go through playing to gain that experience. I don't think that's possible in Year 1 or Year 2.”
Now going into Year 3 under Quinn, Ryan gets to keep the continuity of the offense despite being on his fourth offensive coordinator since entering the league in 2008. The first two, Mike Mularkey and Dirk Koetter, ran similar systems. When Ryan first paired with Shanahan for the 2015 season, he struggled with the movement that comes with the rollouts and bootlegs. This past season, Ryan and Shanahan had a much better understanding of what worked best for Ryan -- not to mention better protection with the addition of center Alex Mack -- and Ryan thrived while setting franchise records in passing yards (4,944), touchdowns (38), passer rating (117.1), completion percentage (69.9 percent), and 25-plus-yard passes (42).
But Ryan is not about to go into the huddle calling his own plays the entire game. Quarterbacks go to the line with multiple checks, but a playcall always comes through the helmet. Under Mularkey and Koetter, Ryan did on-the-ball checks all the time and called his own plays, which means going the line with multiple calls, seeing what the defense is in, and then calling the best option. Peyton Manning used to make more adjustments at the line, so it seemed as if he were calling his own plays, although it was still coming through the helmet. Rodgers has a similar setup in Green Bay. In contrast, Brady reads off a wristband.
Whatever the case, these are quarterbacks who have mastered schemes and have a better feel than the average player. Ryan certainly is among the elite group now.
“Matt definitely can call plays like that,” Shanahan said during Super Bowl week. “Of course he's the type of quarterback who can make the adjustments and run the offense. That's just how great a quarterback Matt truly is.”