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Falcons benefit from giving helping hand to Ryan

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The Atlanta Falcons' 4-2 record has certainly surprised some people. One of the big factors in their early-season success has been the play of quarterback Matt Ryan, who's more mature than his years.

When I evaluated him in college, the thing I liked most was his intelligent play. He had good instincts for the game. He could find the open receiver quickly and also go to the second receiver quickly if the first was covered. This is probably the most important thing a quarterback has to be able to do: think quickly on his feet.

Ryan does not possess a true big-time arm, but it is strong enough to be effective in the NFL. I have found that quarterbacks with good anticipation can make up for the lack of the big arm by getting the ball out quickly and hitting the receiver on his break. Brad Johnson, who is starting for the Cowboys in place of Tony Romo, was that kind of quarterback when we were both with the Redskins. He could get it out quickly before the receiver broke and the defender had a chance to make a play on the ball. Johnson has been to the Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl with this style.

Anytime I ask anybody who has been around Matt Ryan, the first thing they talk about is what I call his intangibles. One of the things mentioned is his tremendous work ethic. The Falcons told me when I visited their training camp this summer that he was like a "sponge" at practice when he was not in there. This also showed me that he was studying hard to learn the offense, and being a smart guy, he would learn it quickly.

Another word that has been used by the Falcons to describe Ryan is "presence," also known as leadership. I'm told he instills confidence in his teammates. He does this with his intelligence, his study habits, his physical ability and his "presence." Presence means he has the respect of the veterans. Presence is what he showed Sunday when, with only six seconds left in the game, he made a clutch throw to Michael Jenkins for 26 yards to set up a game-winning Jason Elam field goal.

Ryan's success has not been just about him. A number of other factors have contributed. The acquisition of Michael Turner has been huge. Turner, combined with Jerious Norwood, gives the Falcons a potent rushing tandem.

Also, to help Ryan in the passing game, the Falcons have used a number of seven- and eight-man protections. When you combine their commitment to the running game with being able to set up the play-action passing game with this extra protection he can get on other passing plays, the Falcons offense, led by coordinator Mike Mularkey, is giving the young quarterback a chance to succeed.

You also have to mention the play of wide receiver Roddy White. White has really blossomed this year into the No. 1-caliber receiver the Falcons thought they were getting when they drafted him. White has also given them a deep threat to keep the defense honest.

Two players on the Falcons defense deserve mention for their early-season play. John Abraham has been very effective as a pass rusher. He has always had excellent pass-rushing skills, but injuries have hurt him in the past. This year, he is healthy and has been a force. Rookie middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has also been a very productive player. I like his instincts and play-making ability, especially against the run.

The Falcons are on the right track for the future. Their success has been a combination of smart drafting by new general manager Thomas Dimitroff and good coaching by Mike Smith and his staff. Credit also has to go to owner Arthur Blank and president Rich McKay for getting Ryan signed early to avoid a training camp holdout that would have almost certainly not put him in a position to have this early-season success, as well as acquiring such key free agents as Turner and Elam. GMs and scouting departments can identify players, but if ownership and management do not take the steps necessary to acquire them, then all is for naught.

McKay also acquired other components, like White and Abraham, who have been keys to the good start.

The Falcons' success has come through a combined team effort of their whole front office.

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