By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Despite a recent rash of interceptions, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan plans to keep slinging the ball.
“You still have to remain confident and cut it loose,” Ryan said Wednesday. “It’s not like I haven’t been seeing it well or anything like that.” Ryan has thrown seven interceptions the past two games, in losses to Carolina and Arizona. Ryan knows that he must be more accurate when the Falcons (2-6) face Seattle (8-1) at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Seattle is plus-six in takeaways, which ranks seventh in the NFL. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas each has four interceptions.
If Ryan is not more careful with the ball, the Seahawks, who were upended by the Falcons 30-28 in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs last season, will pounce. But Ryan believes that his interceptions have been errors of commission.
“It’s just that we’ve been trying to force some (passes) in there, and you have to be a little bit more patient,” Ryan said.
Against Carolina, Ryan’s last interception was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Drayton Florence. The Panthers baited Ryan into a throw to the sidelines by putting eight players near the line of scrimmage.
“It was a change-up from what we had seen,” Ryan said. “It was a good play on their part. Those things are going to happen. You just have to try to cut your losses when you get in a tough spot.” Drew Davis, the intended receiver, said he should have fought back to the ball.
“I allowed the (defensive back) to get between me and the ball,” Davis said. “I made it look like a bad play for Matt, but it was just as much my fault as it was Matt’s.” On an earlier interception, Ryan tried to connect with tight end Tony Gonzalez with three players in coverage. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass.
In the third quarter, Ryan tried to squeeze a pass intended for Harry Douglas into a tight area with four defenders around. The ball was tipped, and Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted.
“I was just trying to force those throws in there a little too much,” Ryan said. “It’s about making better decisions in a couple of situations, but still remaining aggressive and trying to make plays. … In those two specific instances, it would have been better to check that ball down.” Falcons coach Mike Smith knows the team has to eliminate turnovers, but doesn’t seem overly concerned about Ryan’s seven interceptions.
“Each one has a different set of circumstances in terms of how the play has played out,” Smith said. “We can’t turn the ball over. Eight times (they also lost a fumble against Carolina) in the last two games, doesn’t matter (what level) of football you are playing, you are not going to win when you do that.” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter believes Ryan will snap out of his funk.
“I would just say it’s unusual,” Koetter said. “It’s the first time in my tenure that Matt has had back-to-back games where he wasn’t really on top of everything.” The Falcons could help Ryan with an improved rushing attack.
“I thought we ran the ball pretty efficiently against Carolina,” Ryan said. “We’d love to come out and be able to run the ball efficiently. There is no doubt about that.” Ryan’s teammates still support him.
“I believe the things he’s done in the past speak for themselves,” offensive guard Justin Blalock. “Whatever is going on right now is (bizarre). … As long as he’s back there, we have a chance to win. Ninety-nine percent of the games, we’re in. That guy makes a lot of incredible plays all of the time. I’m not going to get too upset about a few plays that didn’t go in our favor.” Ryan appreciates the support.
“I’ve got to pull my weight within this locker room and within this team,” Ryan said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by guys that feel the same way.”