Bair: Arthur Smith did right thing keeping Matt Ryan out of preseason

Keeping the veteran quarterback healthy was the most important thing this summer

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan #2 warms up prior to a game against the Cleveland Browns at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, August 29, 2021. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta Falcons)

ATLANTA – Matt Ryan suited out and warmed up before Sunday's preseason finale, seemingly ready to play with the Falcons starting offense.

The veteran quarterback never left the sideline. He threw on a Falcons cap, put a headphone in his ear tuned to the Falcons offensive communications and watched this 19-10 loss to Cleveland like the rest of us.

His final preseason line: 0-for-0 passing for zero yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions over zero snaps.

That's exactly as it should be.

Arthur Smith was asked Sunday night if he ever planned to play Ryan during the preseason. His answer was simple.

"No."

No explanation necessary, Arthur (though he gave one anyway that we'll get to later).

Bottom line: Smith was dead right to keep Ryan out of the fray.

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There was zero reason for Ryan to play this preseason. No argument can alter that opinion. That includes a counter that Ryan won't operate a new offensive system in game action before things count.

Don't care. Not one bit.

The goal of any preseason is to get through it as healthy as possible. That's certainly true at the quarterback position. That's especially true considering the Falcons quarterback situation, where they don't have a sturdy backup available.

AJ McCarron was going to be the guy before tearing his ACL, though he wasn't inspiring confidence in camp when healthy.

Feleipe Franks has shown great growth over this summer, but he's not ready. Not even close. You can't in good conscience make him Ryan's primary backup this season. Josh Rosen showed great arm talent at times during Sunday's game, but he has been here six days. There's a ton we don't know about how he'll fit in with his fifth team heading into his fourth NFL season.

If Ryan goes down, the season goes with him. While that's true with most teams if the starting signal caller gets hurt, there's no reason risking his health during a meaningless game.

Smith had that in mind while gluing Ryan to the bench. He also understands that Ryan's a veteran, a pro's pro, who doesn't need the seasoning a younger man might.

"It depends on your quarterback position, if we felt we were inexperienced there, sure, we would play the quarterbacks," Smith said. "… That's why we didn't play Matt going into Year 14. We felt he had a good camp. We felt really good about those joint practices."

He also had a backup quarterback situation to figure out. He needed to see Franks one more time and Rosen for the first time in a game, to help identify whether the Falcons need to hit the quarterback market again this week after final cuts. Smith is also an ardent believer that, to develop quarterbacks, they have to play.

He certainly doesn't need to see Ryan captain the ship with live tackling. Fans who didn't hit an open camp practice haven't seen Ryan run Smith's system yet, which led to outside demands he play in the preseason.

That was always a no-go.

Smith has plenty of evidence that he's ready.

I've seen every practice snap this summer. Trust me. Ryan's ready to fly. Him quarterbacking a series, maybe two, wouldn't heighten that belief.

Ryan's timing has improved throughout camp, with greater efficiency from the joint practices versus Miami on forward. When he last spoke during a Wednesday press conference, Ryan seemed completely comfortable starting the regular season without ever seeing a live rep.

He has been aggressive leading the Falcons through this offensive transition, which has pushed those around him to match his level of scheme mastery.

"This is a new system for all of us," Falcons receiver Russell Gage said. "This was my first time to see and learn from him in learning a new offense. It really shows you how much of a leader he really is. His preparation and the way he went about learning a new system, it pushes us all to get up on the same level as him. Matt has done a great job leading by example in that regard."

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