FLOWERY BRANCH — Matt Ryan won’t say how far he could throw the football in an NFL game.
What matters to Ryan is that Roddy White scored a 70-yard touchdown on their long-distance connection in the first quarter of Atlanta’s win last week against Kansas City.
So what if the ball sailed 57 yards in the air?
The Falcons’ rookie quarterback only hopes circumstances at Carolina this weekend call for him to launch another tight spiral over the secondary.
“For me, it’s just to get it out there and to put it in a spot that’s safe from the defenders and knowing that our wide receivers do such a good job of adjusting to it,” Ryan said this week. “When you have guys that can do that, it makes it pretty easy as the quarterback.”
Perhaps, but Ryan is proving to be a pretty quick study at accurately reading coverages and throwing to the right spots on the field.
Granted, the Falcons (2-1) will face a harder test in Carolina (2-1) than they did against a pitiful Chiefs team that has lost 12 straight.
The Panthers’ defense, led by right end Julius Peppers, linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, and the cornerback tandem of Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas, is more similar to the Tampa Bay unit that held Ryan to a 29.6 passer rating and Atlanta running back Michael Turner to just 42 yards on 13 carries.
Ryan knows that any chances he’s allowed to stretch the field with a deep ball to White, flanker Michael Jenkins or rookie receiver Harry Douglas will come only if Turner, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, punishes the Panthers.
It’s critical, particularly early in the game, for the Falcons to give Turner the ball often. Last week, following three straight 3-and-out punts, the offense benefited tremendously when Turner broke off some big gains.
“It shows us that we can keep on fighting even though we might not have success early in the game,” Turner said. “There’s still a lot of football left to play, and we can’t abandon the run. We stayed with it, and it opened up for us.”
Ryan likely won’t have one of his faster deep threats, second-year wideout Laurent Robinson, who was wearing a knee brace and couldn’t practice on Wednesday.
That means White, a 1,000-yard receiver last year, and Jenkins will have to contend all afternoon with Gamble and Lucas. However, neither Atlanta wideout spends all game running routes.
With Turner and Jerious Norwood showing a penchant for reaching the second and third levels of a defense, Atlanta receivers can take some shots at opposing cornerbacks with smothering blocks in the run game.
“You saw that last week,” White said. “When we didn’t abandon the run, eventually we started moving the ball. That’s what I said at the beginning of the game, that they were just playing faster than us. Once we started putting hats on hats, that’s when we showed what we’re capable of.”
On his 70-yard TD, White lined up on the sideline opposite Atlanta’s and ran a post pattern down the middle of the field. Ryan just threw the ball as far as he could.
“He started down the outside of the field and just really made a good adjustment,” Ryan said. “He didn’t lose a step as he adjusted. He didn’t lose any speed, and that’s a pretty impressive thing to do as a wideout.”