The San Francisco 49ers are about a day away from doing everything humanly possible to make life tough for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. It's actually quite mean of them -- Ryan has had a tough season as it is.
He's survived most of the season with no running game to speak of. Old 49ers rival Steven Jackson took over in Atlanta before getting injured, taking back over and getting injured again. Jackson was ridden down hard by the St. Louis Rams, and it shows every time he carries the football. Signing him was a mistake.
On top of that, Ryan has been without wide receiver Roddy White and Julio Jones for much of the season. When healthy, they're possibly the best group of receivers in the NFL. Jones is fast, athletic and has huge big-play ability while White is as physical a presence you can get this side of Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson.
But White started the season playing through injury to keep an iron man streak alive, and promptly re-injured himself. He's played well in recent weeks, but remains an unreliable option overall. Jones is out for the season with an injury he sustained early on. Thus, Ryan has to depend on Tony Gonzalez, the best tight end in NFL history but who is way past his prime, and Harry Douglas.
And to make all of this worse, the Falcons have struggled along their offensive line. Atlanta has fielded seven different starting offensive line combinations this season. The current starters are Lamar Holmes, Justin Blalock, Jow Hawley, Pete Konz and Ryan Schrader.
Ryan has been sacked 34 times and hit 81 times, for a total of 115 hits this season. That's one of the worst numbers in the league, especially given that many teams with more hits have started multiple quarterbacks, pushing Ryan up on the "most-hit single QB" list.
It's clear one of the, if not the biggest priorities for the Falcons on Monday will be simple: keep Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith away from Ryan. This team believes in Ryan despite the team's struggles this season, and getting him beaten up and possibly significantly injured is probably the worst thing that can happen at this point.
Still, it's worth noting that even with all of these hits, and all of these injury issues, Ryan has put up solid stats. He's completed 374 of 563 passes for 3,887 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His touchdowns are down and his interceptions are up, but those are still pretty darn impressive stats given the situation he's currently in.
So bravo, Matt Ryan. You're doing pretty good. But you may want to give your offensive line a pep talk Monday morning ...
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