|Fernando Medina/US Presswire|
|Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 0-2 in the postseason heading into Sunday's game against the Giants.|
Picture yourself as a high-level NFL executive. You have a starting quarterback who has been a solid, productive player for four seasons. He has helped your team win many games and earn three playoff berths, two division titles and a No. 1 seed. He put the franchise back on the map, created a winning atmosphere around the team and has made a significant contribution to the success of the team. Have to be happy with these results, right?
Coming out of college, he was a high draft pick and signed a six-year deal that made him one of the highest paid QBs at that time. Now after year four, the contract needs to be extended and your job as an executive is to determine what his value is as it relates to the team. One thing you know for sure, you will have a hard time replacing him with a better or equal talent, but that cannot alter or significantly increase the real value. That comes from his play on the field, not the law of economics.
This player has been sensational at home, winning 26 games and losing just five. He has a quarterback rating of over 97 at home, throwing 50 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions. And his completion percentage has been outstanding, almost 65 percent. But in two playoff games -- one at home, one on the road, both in indoors -- he has played poorly, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions. His rating drops to 71.2, and he has lost both games. Does the pressure bother him? Does he feast on bad teams and fold in the big game? These are all vital questions to ask, but even more important to answer correctly.
On the road, he is 17-16 in four seasons and has thrown for 48 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. His rating drops down to 80.7 and he has a 58 percent completion rate. To compare, the other first-round QB picked the same year is 17-15 on the road but has won four road playoff games. The top quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning (65-29), Tom Brady (55-25) and Drew Brees (44-33) -- all have better road winning percentages. Is it safe to conclude your player is good, but not great?
This is the plight of the Atlanta Falcons. Is Matt Ryan worthy of a top quarterback contract, or is he just a good player who cannot be overpaid? Is Ryan good, but not great? Does he not win the big game, home or away? Is Ryan the type of player who can make the team respectable, yet never play his best in the hardest and most competitive environment?
And what else can be done to determine his real value? Perhaps the strongest argument to be made would be if Ryan is able to win this weekend on the road against the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. A win in New Jersey would prove to many that Ryan can win on the road in the most difficult environment against a good team.
The Falcons are a dome team and normally dome teams don't travel well, which might explain Ryan's average road record. The impact of weather always seems to play a part. Wind, cold, rain and bad surfaces all make it hard on dome teams to perform well. And this Sunday the forecast for New York is the classic "winter mix" -- which means that no matter if it rains, snows or sleets, every weather man is right with his prediction. The winter mix could cause problems for the Falcons.
Some games can define a player -- positively or negatively. And this game might be the best chance Ryan has to shrug the "home-dome" quarterback label and prove to many that a kid from Philadelphia can handle weather and most of all win tough games on the road. This game will go a long way for the brass in Atlanta in knowing where Ryan fits in the quarterbacking pay scale of the NFL.
Some might say that one game does not define a player, and to some degree that is true. But after four years, players get a label and Ryan's is he is only good at home. A stellar performance Sunday will change that line of thinking. I am anxious to watch.
The First 15, Wild-Card Edition
1. The Detroit Lions cannot play a track meet game with the New Orleans Saints and expect to win. Detroit must slow the pace down and not snap the ball until there is one second on the play clock. The Lions must use the Saints' approach against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Steal a possession somewhere, and slow the game down.
2. The Lions must play their best game on third down this season. Last time they played the Saints, they went 2-for-11 on third-down conversions. The Lions had a third-and-2 in the second quarter, down 10-0 and failed to convert. The score went to 17-0 on the next Saints possession. Possession downs must be won by the Lions. This has been a problem all season for the them, and they must be over 45 percent to win. The funny thing about game one was the Lions could not convert third downs, but still held the ball 35 minutes.
4. The game slipped away from the Lions in the second quarter when the Saints scored 21 points. Detroit cannot go three possessions in a row without scoring, which it did to start the game. The Saints first five possessions? Three touchdowns, a field goal and a punt.
5. Ndamukong Suh missed the first meeting and will make a difference Saturday. Being healthy on the defensive front, especially defensive end Willie Young, will be key. Beating the Saints does not happen with coverage; it happens with pressure on the passer.
8. The Falcons must get some production from their defensive line in this game, especially at tackle. Corey Peters has three sacks to lead the tackles. First-round tackle Peria Jerry has no sacks and little production. Atlanta needs its defensive line to step up.
9. Roddy White leads the NFL in dropped passes, and most of them were in ideal conditions. Can he catch a cold, hard football?
13. Andre Johnson's return should help Houston's run game, but only if Johnson can prove early in the game that he can explode like in the past.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi