FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Talk to enough people about Jake Matthews and patterns emerge.
Terms are shared across interviews, whether a player or coach is discussing the Falcons' veteran left tackle.
Dependable. Consistent. Role model.
Three people used that last one, which encapsulates Matthews best in his work as a leader and a left tackle.
Those are essential roles on this Falcons team. They need Matt Ryan upright. They also need a standard bearer for an offensive line featuring Matthews and four other starters with less than three years' experience.
Matthews is the perfect guy for those jobs simply by being himself.
His style isn't flashy, nor is his production. He's so steady, in fact, that fans probably forget he's out there, taking for granted that Ryan's blind side is always protected.
Those inside the league know that Jake Matthews is a rock who commands respect.
He doesn't yell or scream but, when he speaks, you listen. He sets the practice tone and is committed to constant growth. And when he's on the field, Matthews is tough to beat. He hasn't given up a sack this season, per Pro Football Focus, allowing just six quarterback pressures in 277 pass-blocking snaps.
That's, you know, pretty good. Even so, Matthews refuses to rest on that.
"Jake is playing at an extremely high level right now," Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. "He's playing really good football but, each week, he sees little things where he can continue to grow. He embraces that challenge. You see him working so hard to do improve.
"He sets the standard for the culture in our room. From the style of play to the expectations for the group, and the fact that the guys are having fun out there. It's great to see Jake out there every day, working hard but having fun at the same time. That's something all the guys pick up on."
The Falcons offensive line is young. It features a rookie, a second-year pro and two guys in their third season. Matthews is now the old man in the room, with young talent looking to him as example for how to operate and execute well at an NFL level.
That's why I spent the week finding out what makes Matthews tick and how he operates. That's why I'm writing about him now. He plays a massive role on this team, on an offensive line that has shown improvement each week and is essential in the process of Ryan distributing the ball to a group of dynamic skill players. That work as gone largely unnoticed on the outside. It's time to change that.
What I found most interesting when researching Matthews is how excited everyone was to talk about him. Eyes legit lit up when his name came up. That, maybe even more than the praise directed at him, shows how the Falcons feel about Matthews and his impact on this team.
The always eloquent Chris Lindstrom describes Matthews' impact best.
"I couldn't say enough nice things about Jake as a person or a player," the right guard said. "He's an unbelievable role model for myself. He comes in with the mindset every day that he's going to get his job done, no matter he feels or whatever circumstances are going on in his life. That's the mindset he takes to practice every day.
"If I were to summarize Jake, he's the ultimate professional of what you want an offensive lineman to be. I'm glad he's getting some recognition that he deserves. He's an unbelievable player."
Matthews is as playing as well has he ever has, even to his own lofty standard, but still wants to grow and evolve. He doesn't seem to mind that it's happening under the radar.
"Jake quietly goes about his business and he's about as underrated or unsung of a guy as there is," Ryan said. "He's durable. I mean, he's out there every week and he's just technically sound, really good technique when it comes to pass protection, really good technique in the run game. He plays hard for us. He's a great leader by example. He's got a really good template of how he prepares himself, week in and week out that the young guys can look at and say that's how you do it. I think has been really good for us."
Matthews understands his role within the position group, partly as a shepherd of young but talented linemen.
"He's not a huge vocal leader where you're hearing his voice all the time," Ledford said. "He leads in his own way. I can say he knows how to communicate with the people beside him. He knows how to get through to people. That's clear seeing him work with Jalen."
The Atlanta Falcons take practice into their indoor facility to get ready for this Sunday's match against the Carolina Panthers. Take a look at the best images in this gallery.
I also spoke with Matthews for this story, and it was clear he takes pride seeing rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield progress. He's hands on with Mayfield, a talented player who green working on the interior line. The University of Michigan product has improved after a subpar season opener, working into a more trusted asset up front.
Mayfield's an example of how Matthews is helping this front in several ways and why his contributions are so important to this group in particular.
"If you want to show what a true pro looks like, we've got that in Jake Matthews," Ledford said. "Now you have a bunch of [younger] guys watching him work and progressing on their own, and it's just fun to see that group come together and start to form their own identity of how they're going to play."
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