Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
Given Time, Falcons’ Matt Ryan Will Be Able To Pick His Spots
ASHBURN – A mere mention of the last time Jarvis Jenkins saw Matt Ryan on a football field had the Washington Redskins’ defensive end shaking his head.
Ryan, then a quarterback at Boston College, completed a 43-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining to lead his team to victory over Jenkins and Clemson. With the victory, the Eagles, and not the favored Tigers, earned a trip to the ACC Championship.
That play and the sting of that defeat remain fresh on Jenkins’ mind five years later. If anything, it serves as a type of warning for what the Redskins could see Sunday against Atlanta.
“Don’t give him time, man,” Jenkins said. “Don’t let him get comfortable. Once he gets comfortable, that’s a guy that can hurt you real fast.”
Ryan has led the Falcons to their third 4-0 start in franchise history and has a 112.1 quarterback rating, the highest in the NFL through four weeks. Much of that has come from the rapport Ryan has built with his top two receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The 6-foot, 211-pound White, 30, has played in the last four Pro Bowls and is the only receiver to have more than 100 receptions in each of the last two seasons. Jones, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, is in only his second year but has a bright future.
“One’s big, athletic and can go up and catch the ball, and the other one’s really fast, great route-runner, make all the catches,” said Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “And maybe [they’re] the two best blocking wide receivers in the National Football League. They can go up and throw their body around. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’ve got a little mean streak to them, so it’s a challenge for their back end to see if we can control these two.”
The matchup appears decidedly lopsided in the Falcons’ favor. Washington has had one of the most porous pass defenses over the first four weeks of the season, allowing a woeful 326.2 yards a game by the air to rank second-to-last in the league.
The secondary, in particular, has been depleted, with both projected starting safeties – Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson – unable to play this year. Meriweather sprained ligaments in his left knee during the preseason and has twice experienced a setback; Jackson was suspended by the NFL indefinitely in late August for failing a drug test.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams each tested the Redskins last week at Tampa Bay, catching a combined 10 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown. Still, White and Jones are better receivers who pose a different type of challenge.
“You throw in a Hall of Famer in [tight end] Tony Gonzalez in the mix and it’s definitely a potent passing attack,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Matt Ryan has been playing lights out, probably the MVP right now in the first four weeks of the season, so you know, [it’s] definitely the best passing attack we will have faced so far this season.”
The Redskins haven’t just struggled with their coverage. Their pressure on the quarterback, considered before the season to be one of their potential strengths, has been practically nonexistent.
Washington has just seven sacks – a byproduct, the players maintain, of facing quarterbacks who throw the ball quickly. Ryan, meanwhile, was sacked seven times last week by Carolina, which offers the Redskins a glint of hope.
“It’s a total group effort,” Hall said. “It’s our offense being able to sustain drives. It’s our pass rush being able to get in his face. It’s us on the back end being able to cover, linebackers dropping some zones or play man if they have to. … It’s a simple formula, but it’s hard to execute. We’ll try to go out there and do what we do.”
But as Jenkins knows, even if the Redskins are able to do what they’d like, Ryan can always make the final play.
“A quarterback with two wide receivers that can make plays, man? If we do that like we did last week, they’re really gonna get past us,” Jenkins said. “We need to emphasize more staying in our rushing lanes and pushing the pocket as much as we can.”