FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Sometimes it's hard to believe Matt Ryan will be embarking on his 12th season in the league. He's already played in 174 games and thrown for 46,720 yards and 295 touchdowns, and it appears he's not slowing down anytime soon.
In fact, Ryan has played some of his best football of late.
In 2016, Ryan won the NFL MVP Award after a season in which he threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. His completion percentage was a career-best 69.9 percent.
Ryan's play has continued to trend upwards since his MVP campaign. Atlanta's franchise quarterback is coming off a season in which he nearly mirrored his statistics from 2016. Ryan threw for 4,924 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2018.
Dirk Koetter is back for his second stint as Ryan's coordinator and after facing him twice a year in the NFC South for the past several seasons Tampa Bay's head coach, he's seen vast improvement since he last coached Ryan in 2014.
"I think Matt is playing really good at this point in his career," Koetter said. "I'm going to try and help him the best I can."
When asked what part of Ryan's game in particular he feels Ryan has improved most, Koetter pointed to two areas: Accuracy and leadership.
"I think the thing maybe I took for granted when I was away [is] his accuracy," Koetter said. "Matt is also now a coach on the field. He knows the system like the back of his hand and he's out there directing traffic when he has young guys in his group. He knows exactly what he wants them to do and what it should look like and he's good at expressing it.
Since Koetter's departure in 2014 when Ryan finished the season with a 66.1 completion percentage, there's only been one season in which Ryan hasn't posted a better percentage and that was the 2017 season when he posted a 64.7 completion percentage.
Ryan's position coach, Greg Knapp, has been working with Ryan for the past two seasons. Knapp has worked with several top-tier NFL quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning, over the years and he too has seen small improvements in Ryan's game, starting with his technique.
"One of the things I was proud to see was a lot of our play-action passes are off long extended runs and he did a really good job last year improving his ability to get that fake and get the ball [out] a little bit sooner with his footwork," Knapp said. "The ball got out of his hand a little bit quicker after a long play fake and we got some more explosive plays out of it."
Ryan will enter this season reunited with a coordinator he's very familiar with, a re-tooled offensive line, a star group of receivers to work with and a healthy former Pro Bowl running back at his disposal.
A good place to start, I'd say.