Matt Ryan is being paid like a top quarterback, so can he rediscover his consistency? Ever since signing his lucrative contract extension ahead of the 2013 season, Ryan’s play has grown aggressively mediocre, and Atlanta hasn’t topped .500. Last season, the Falcons jumped out to a 5–0 start but slid to an 8–8 finish (though not without handing the Panthers their only regular-season loss in Week 16), and their 6–5 record in games decided by seven points or fewer only highlighted their lack of consistency.
Ryan’s numbers haven’t strayed disastrously far from his career bests in recent seasons, but for better or worse, QBs are measured based on how many games their team wins, and a redemptive season would unburden him of the frustration stemming from Atlanta’s recent disappointing finishes. Another cause for frustration: Last year, Ryan had four red-zone interceptions, just one shy of the league lead posted by Eli Manning. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and head coach Dan Quinn have work to do in August to set up a climb up the standings in their second year.
The Rookie: Quinn took a step towards recreating his vaunted Seattle defenses by drafting Florida safety Keanu Neal to play a Kam Chancellor-like role. Neal will have a huge spotlight on him heading into training camp after being something of a surprise selection at No. 17. There isn’t much in the way of experienced depth behind him if he struggles to adapt to the speed of the pros early on.
Position Battle Spoiler: Second-round draft pick Deion Jones will challenge Paul Worrilow for his middle linebacker spot right away. Jones has more speed than Worrilow, but how easily will the veteran give up his spot? Ultimately, this one might come down to veteran experience, but Worrilow will have a short leash.
The Stat: 7, the number of Julio Jones’s eight touchdown catches in 2015 that came in wins. Jones had 136 catches last season but expressed his frustration in his lack of red-zone targets late in the year. Next month should offer a glimpse at how Shanahan plans to work in new arrival Mohamed Sanu to balance out Jones’s high-volume production.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The Falcons will get the first shot at Josh Norman in a Washington jersey when they host the Redskins in the preseason opener, but really, the matchup is more of a reunion, since the Falcons saw Norman twice a year with the Panthers.