Robert Griffin III might be the biggest story in the Redskins' young season but his counterpart this weekend, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, might offer a glimpse of what we can expect in Washington in the coming years.
Ryan came into the league as the third-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He was immediately installed as the starter for a Falcons franchise still reeling from Michael Vick's involvement in dogfighting, and all Ryan did was lead Atlanta to the playoffs as a rookie. He experienced his share of growing pains in the ensuing years, but now in his fifth season, Ryan is the grizzled veteran leader the Falcons were hoping for when they drafted him.
He'll come to FedEx Field trying to extend Atlanta's record to 5-0 for the first time in team history as the preseason Super Bowl bandwagon has graduated to standing room only.
The Redskins are well aware of what Ryan can do, and former Falcons first-rounder, cornerback DeAngelo Hall (taken four years before Ryan) is impressed with what he's seen.
“Matt is coming into his own,” Hall said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He looks like the guy [the Falcons] thought he would be all along. He’s playing at an MVP-caliber level right now.”
While the Redskins offense has been a pleasant surprise -- especially the run game -- the defense hasn't hit its stride. Losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker several weeks ago certainly didn't help, but this is the NFL, where injuries are as much a part of the game as touchdowns and sacks.
"We’ve struggled. If you look at the stats, we’ve definitely struggled with consistency. But we feel good about the guys that we got," Hall told the AJC. "I think the question mark coming into the season was how good could this quarterback be and how good could we be offensively. I think we’ve answered all of those questions so far through the short season. The pressure is going to fall back on us on defense. We love that. We love to have that kind of pressure on us."
Good news: The 'Skins improved against the pass last week (which is typically the case of any unit facing that horrid Bucs offense). Bad news: They still gave up big plays. Football Outsiders ranks Washington's defense 25th overall (17th against the run, 25th against the pass).
The Washington Post's Mike Jones points out that Washington's lone sack in Tampa Bay was a function of a lack of pressure from the front seven, which again has a lot to do with Orakpo and Carriker sidelined for the season.
And with safety Brandon Meriweather's debut delayed after the freak pre-game collision with Aldrick Robinson last Sunday, Reed Doughty will again get the start. It gets worse: According to FO's metrics, the secondary ranks 15th against opposing No. 1 receivers, which is average. But against No. 2 receivers they're last in the NFL, and they rank 29th against tight ends. Put differently: Roddy White might not be in for a big game but don't be surprised if Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez go off.
But hey, nobody had the Redskins beating the Saints in the season opener, either. Stranger things have happened and anything can happen when RGIII's on your team.
"He’s probably the most popular guy behind President Obama," Hall said. "He’s a rock star. Everywhere we go, he has a huge following. A lot of people are supporting the Redskins and supporting him. It’s nice to have that kind of backing. It’s kind of like when Mike Vick was on top and we would go to different cities. It’s crazy. That’s kind of what the atmosphere and vibe is like around here."