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'He's changed a lot of systems:' How Matt Ryan has subtly reinvented himself throughout his career

Arthur Smith said it's an overlooked part of his years in the league. 

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan #2 celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, November 7, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Gallego/Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan #2 celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, November 7, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Gallego/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Arthur Smith went on the record earlier in the year to say that Matt Ryan is "criminally underrated" as a quarterback in the league. His command of the offense speaks for itself. His numbers and production does, too. But last week, Smith brought up a part of Ryan's career that flies under the radar, an "underrated" part of said career, if you will.

Smith said he believes Ryan is underrated because he's had the career he's had while doing so in very different systems every few years.

"He's been productive in a lot of different systems. That's where I think he's really underrated," Smith said. "A lot of quarterbacks are usually with the same system for most of their career or a long stretch of a career. He's changed a lot of systems."


Smith said Ryan has subtly reinvented himself throughout each scheme, something "most people don't know" that he does. Even now, in Smith's scheme, he's evolving.

"There are certain things we've asked him to do that he wasn't comfortable with in his past," Smith said. "He's been really effective this year for us, and we'll continue to push and find the right balance."

From Ryan's personal perspective, he said pinpointing the ways in which he has subtly picked up new things from coordinator to coordinator is a little difficult when put on the spot. But he did say he's constantly tweaking parts of his game.

Ryan specifically spoke on the importance he has found in compartmentalizing. As he gets to know a new coordinator, he starts grouping their play concepts together with former concepts he already has in his memory bank from past coordinators. Ryan tries to find similarities between each coach's play call tendencies. When he does, he files them away in his mind.

"I try and group them in specific things so I can get myself feeling like it's something that I already know, or feeling like it's something that I've done at a certain point in my career," Ryan explained.

However, even as he does this, coordinators are never trying to reinvent the wheel with Ryan. They know what they have in him, particularly Smith who catches Ryan at this specific point in his career. For Ryan, he feels as though his skill set has a track record of being productive with a lot of different play callers. And he's right. The book that is his career supports this.

Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said there are certain things they have asked Ryan to do in 2021 that perhaps he wasn't as "comfortable" with coming into this season. Smith - never one to talk scheme - wouldn't get into the specifics, and Ragone deflected with a joke about Ryan's scrambling abilities.

"At some point, the cat is out of the bag that this guy is going to make people miss in space," Ragone said with a laugh.

But when asked what the balance is between fitting the scheme to Ryan vs. fitting Ryan to the scheme, Ragone said Ryan "can make a lot of things work conceptually." And noted the personnel around Ryan dictates what's being asked of him. And that's something Ryan hinted at, too.

"(Smith) does a great job of adapting to the people that we have, and each year is going to be different. Sometimes each week, depending on who's up and who's down," Ryan said. "You have to try and accentuate the things that guys do well and put them in position to be successful. I think for me, I feel like he's done a really good job of that."

And part of doing so is having a constant dialogue between play caller (Smith) and quarterback (Ryan).

A prime example of this in-game dialogue came against the Saints two Sundays ago.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons needed a big play, and they got one on a 64-yard catch-and-run by Cordarrelle Patterson.

It was the same play call from the first quarter, when Ryan went to Patterson on third and nine for a 34-yard gain.

Smith said after the game that he often asks for Ryan's input, and whether or not Ryan likes the play call when putting it up against what he's seen from an opposing defense. It's a constant dialogue that Ryan really likes with his new head coach.

"He's constantly asking me about how I feel about certain things that we're doing," Ryan said. "I've really enjoyed that back and forth."

For the Falcons organization, this relationship between Ryan and Smith is paramount. And as Ryan has shown throughout his career, he has the ability to evolve and tweak and subtly transform his game to better fit an offensive scheme. How he does so with Smith, and how Smith plays to Ryan's strengths, too, is something to continually monitor.


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