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For Lazy:

The Atlanta Falcons will make the playoffs. They have shown significant improvement over the course of this season, and as we enter the home stretch, they have developed into one of the most consistent teams in the NFL.

It is very rare that you can talk about consistency and playoffs when the starting quarterback is a rookie. But right now, no one is playing the position better than Matt Ryan. That may be a bold statement, but the tape backs it up.

Ryan plays with the poise and composure of a veteran. It's truly hard for me to believe he has started only 13 NFL games. When I watched the game last week against the Saints, I saw a quarterback dictating the pace and tempo with selective use of the no-huddle, often orchestrating the offense at the line of scrimmage. He looked very much like Peyton Manning.

The mere fact that the Falcons coaching staff would give Ryan that kind of freedom tells you all you need to know about his capacity to absorb and process meaningful amounts of information. Here I defer to the late Bill Walsh and his brilliant definition of functional intelligence: "The ability of a player to organize and isolate different categories of tasks ... This characteristic reflects the fact that a quarterback has the ability to quickly break things down to a point of understanding where he does not overly complicate his response to them. This ability is the key to being able to instantly process information in highly stressful situations."

That describes Ryan perfectly. The game already has slowed down for him. Who can forget the throw he made against the Bears back in October in his sixth game: 26 yards to Michael Jenkins with :06 remaining, speeding up his drop and delivery with Tommie Harris' quick pressure right in his face. The touch and the accuracy under duress were unmatched, and the throw set up the game-winning field goal. It may have been the best single throw of the season.

I hear a lot about the so-called "it" factor with Ryan, that "special something", that unquantifiable quality that enables him to elevate those around him. That's nice water-cooler talk, but if Ryan did not have the attributes that are absolutely necessary to play quarterback at a high level in the NFL, it would be nothing more than idle chatter.

Let's talk about three of those skills. One is anticipation. Simply, what that means is he has the ability to read coverage quickly and throw the ball to an area before his receivers come out of their breaks, rather than waiting to see them make their break. When you wait, you're late. That's the way it is in the NFL.

I love going frame-by-frame when I'm breaking down tape, and freezing the shot when Ryan begins his delivery. Very often, Roddy White, or Jenkins, is still running vertically, with no indication at all that they are going to make their break. Ryan delivers, and the ball and receiver meet for a completion.

I don't believe that kind of timing and anticipation can be taught. Ryan showed it at Boston College, and it was there from Day 1 with Atlanta.

The second characteristic is the willingness to make tight throws into small windows. With the sophistication of coverage schemes, and the speed of defensive backs, receivers in the NFL are rarely wide open, particularly at the intermediate and deeper levels. It's not college football. You have to be willing to pull the trigger when the passing lanes are tightly constricted. Ryan does that, and his accuracy produces completions.

Finally, there's pocket movement. Ryan has a great feel for sliding a couple steps within the confined area of the pocket to find a more comfortable spot to deliver the football, never losing his downfield focus. He did that a number of times against the Saints, defeating the pass rush with a great throw. Again, I feel strongly that you cannot teach the concept of pocket movement, and it's critical to elite quarterback play in the NFL.

Right now, Ryan is a legitimate MVP candidate, and he's getting better each week.

I love about the versatility and flexibility of the Falcons offense. Coordinator Mike Mularkey uses a wide array of personnel packages, formations, shifts and motion, all designed to keep the defense off balance. It's that time-honored concept of creating the illusion of complexity when, in fact, the plays themselves are basic.

Mularkey dictates defensive flow with misdirection, both in the run game and the pass game. A staple play is a designed cutback by Michael Turner, behind the lead block of FB Ovie Mughelli, and it has been very successful for the Falcons.

Along the same lines, Mularkey gets Ryan on the move by design, with rollouts off run action. This also creates hesitation and indecision in the defense, and adds to the deception that is so much a part of the Falcons offense.

It's a multi-dimensional offense whose foundation is the run, but the rapid growth of Ryan has necessitated a much greater use of play action passing in recent weeks. How about these numbers: Ryan is 13-of-18 for 261 yards and a touchdown off play action passing in the last 2 games. Mularkey is expanding the offense. Ryan is the reason.

I know questions persist about a defense that remains a work in progress, with very real concerns in the secondary despite the significant improvement of corner Chris Houston, but Ryan and his offense can score, as evidenced by the 45 points they dropped on Carolina 3 weeks ago.

As far as I'm concerned, the real question for the Falcons is, who will be their opponent on Wild Card weekend?

Greg Cosell of NFL Films analyzes coaching tape and is executive producer of State Farm NFL Matchup. He is a frequent contributor to Sporting News.

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For Lazy:

The Atlanta Falcons will make the playoffs. They have shown significant improvement over the course of this season, and as we enter the home stretch, they have developed into one of the most consistent teams in the NFL.

It is very rare that you can talk about consistency and playoffs when the starting quarterback is a rookie. But right now, no one is playing the position better than Matt Ryan. That may be a bold statement, but the tape backs it up.

Ryan plays with the poise and composure of a veteran. It's truly hard for me to believe he has started only 13 NFL games. When I watched the game last week against the Saints, I saw a quarterback dictating the pace and tempo with selective use of the no-huddle, often orchestrating the offense at the line of scrimmage. He looked very much like Peyton Manning.

The mere fact that the Falcons coaching staff would give Ryan that kind of freedom tells you all you need to know about his capacity to absorb and process meaningful amounts of information. Here I defer to the late Bill Walsh and his brilliant definition of functional intelligence: "The ability of a player to organize and isolate different categories of tasks ... This characteristic reflects the fact that a quarterback has the ability to quickly break things down to a point of understanding where he does not overly complicate his response to them. This ability is the key to being able to instantly process information in highly stressful situations."

That describes Ryan perfectly. The game already has slowed down for him. Who can forget the throw he made against the Bears back in October in his sixth game: 26 yards to Michael Jenkins with :06 remaining, speeding up his drop and delivery with Tommie Harris' quick pressure right in his face. The touch and the accuracy under duress were unmatched, and the throw set up the game-winning field goal. It may have been the best single throw of the season.

I hear a lot about the so-called "it" factor with Ryan, that "special something", that unquantifiable quality that enables him to elevate those around him. That's nice water-cooler talk, but if Ryan did not have the attributes that are absolutely necessary to play quarterback at a high level in the NFL, it would be nothing more than idle chatter.

Let's talk about three of those skills. One is anticipation. Simply, what that means is he has the ability to read coverage quickly and throw the ball to an area before his receivers come out of their breaks, rather than waiting to see them make their break. When you wait, you're late. That's the way it is in the NFL.

I love going frame-by-frame when I'm breaking down tape, and freezing the shot when Ryan begins his delivery. Very often, Roddy White, or Jenkins, is still running vertically, with no indication at all that they are going to make their break. Ryan delivers, and the ball and receiver meet for a completion.

I don't believe that kind of timing and anticipation can be taught. Ryan showed it at Boston College, and it was there from Day 1 with Atlanta.

The second characteristic is the willingness to make tight throws into small windows. With the sophistication of coverage schemes, and the speed of defensive backs, receivers in the NFL are rarely wide open, particularly at the intermediate and deeper levels. It's not college football. You have to be willing to pull the trigger when the passing lanes are tightly constricted. Ryan does that, and his accuracy produces completions.

Finally, there's pocket movement. Ryan has a great feel for sliding a couple steps within the confined area of the pocket to find a more comfortable spot to deliver the football, never losing his downfield focus. He did that a number of times against the Saints, defeating the pass rush with a great throw. Again, I feel strongly that you cannot teach the concept of pocket movement, and it's critical to elite quarterback play in the NFL.

Right now, Ryan is a legitimate MVP candidate, and he's getting better each week.

I love about the versatility and flexibility of the Falcons offense. Coordinator Mike Mularkey uses a wide array of personnel packages, formations, shifts and motion, all designed to keep the defense off balance. It's that time-honored concept of creating the illusion of complexity when, in fact, the plays themselves are basic.

Mularkey dictates defensive flow with misdirection, both in the run game and the pass game. A staple play is a designed cutback by Michael Turner, behind the lead block of FB Ovie Mughelli, and it has been very successful for the Falcons.

Along the same lines, Mularkey gets Ryan on the move by design, with rollouts off run action. This also creates hesitation and indecision in the defense, and adds to the deception that is so much a part of the Falcons offense.

It's a multi-dimensional offense whose foundation is the run, but the rapid growth of Ryan has necessitated a much greater use of play action passing in recent weeks. How about these numbers: Ryan is 13-of-18 for 261 yards and a touchdown off play action passing in the last 2 games. Mularkey is expanding the offense. Ryan is the reason.

I know questions persist about a defense that remains a work in progress, with very real concerns in the secondary despite the significant improvement of corner Chris Houston, but Ryan and his offense can score, as evidenced by the 45 points they dropped on Carolina 3 weeks ago.

As far as I'm concerned, the real question for the Falcons is, who will be their opponent on Wild Card weekend?

Greg Cosell of NFL Films analyzes coaching tape and is executive producer of State Farm NFL Matchup. He is a frequent contributor to Sporting News.

WOW! :o Someone who actually watched the games and knows what they're talking about. Thank you very much for posting this. :D

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