It all started during the week leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft. Matt Ryan, the quarterback out of Boston College, was the consensus top signal caller among the draft prospects. Joe Flacco, from the University of Delaware, was the small school quarterback prospect who was rising up draft boards as the first round approached.
With the Atlanta Falcons holding the 3rd overall choice and the Baltimore Ravens positioned at 8th overall, one thing was clear: both teams coveted Matt Ryan.
In the days ahead of the draft, Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens front office tried to entice the two teams in front of Atlanta (Miami and St. Louis) with deals that would allow the Ravens to jump ahead of the Falcons to choose the franchise quarterback the Baltimore franchise had been lacking since it’s inception in 1996. Alas, after being rebuffed by both the Dolphins and Rams, Newsome and company had to sit back and watch as Ryan got snatched up by the Falcons at pick 3.
Undaunted by the loss of Ryan, Newsome was still in the market for a young QB and now set his sights on the young signal caller from the University of Delaware. After first using the 8 pick to trade back with Jacksonville and accumulate additional selections, the Ravens made another deal to acquire the 18th selection from Houston and used that pick to choose Flacco.
Since that fateful weekend in April of 2008, Flacco and Ryan have been compared and contrasted constantly, not only by Ravens and Falcons fans and media, but nationally as well. So who has been better over the course of the ensuing six-plus years? Let’s take a look at their career stats including the first six games of 2014:
Matt Ryan (overall regular season record 62-38, 1-4 postseason record)
100 games played, 63.7 completion %, 25,322 yards, 165 TDs, 84 Interceptions, 21 Fumbles, 167 sacks, 25 game-winning drives
Joe Flacco (overall regular season record 66-36, 9-4 postseason record)
102 games played, 60.5 completion %, 23,141 yards, 133 TDs, 81 Interceptions, 43 Fumbles, 229 sacks, 20 game-winning drives
Despite an edge to Ryan in the stat department, the statistical comparison is a whole lot closer than you might surmise based off of the standard praise for Ryan nationally and the general “meh” attitude toward Flacco. You also have to take into account the weapons and offensive scheme each quarterback has had at their disposal during their respective careers.
The Falcons have typically had one of the best offensive units in the NFL over the course of Ryan’s career with Roddy White and Harry Douglas in Atlanta at the start and the additions of Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones as the seasons progressed. At one time or another all have provided formidable targets for Ryan to throw to.
Along with stewarding a typically run-heavy offensive focus, I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that Flacco has had much less to work with on the offensive side of the football. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Sr.(albeit small sample size), Dennis Pitta, and an aging Todd Heap simply don’t compare to the firepower that Ryan has had at his disposal.
Boldin, while at times dominant, was extremely inconsistent in his time as a Raven. Mason was more of a number-two type receiver who could consistently move the chains, but wasn’t a dominant presence from week to week. Smith, Sr. has been incredibly impressive as a Raven so far in 2014, but his sample size is too small at this point to really compare to the consistent presence Roddy White or even Julio Jones have provided for Ryan in Atlanta.
In addition to weapons, pass protection has also been a plus for Ryan. Despite issues in 2013, Ryan’s offensive lines have been a more steady and positive presence than Flacco’s: Ryan has been sacked a total of 167 times over the course of his career with Flacco sacked a whopping 229 times. Some of this can be attributed to holding the ball too long or receivers not being open, but the fact remains that Ryan has typically had both more time to throw the ball and more weapons to throw the ball to.
Despite the statistical edge and a more talented supporting cast on offense, Ryan falls short where it matters most: the postseason. Through 2013, Ryan has a 1-4 overall postseason record with Flacco enjoying a 9-4 postseason career that culminated with the 2012 Super Bowl title and game MVP honors. Ryan may have two Pro Bowl honors and the 2008 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award sitting on his mantle at home, but I bet he’d trade those for Flacco’s ring and Super Bowl MVP trophy every day and twice on Sunday.
So what can we garner from all of this? Is either Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco that much better than the other? Personally, I still think it’s too close to call. While Ryan has been better statistically, Flacco has made the best with what he’s had to work with and helped to lead the Ravens to an impressive playoff resume and a Super Bowl title during his six-plus seasons in Baltimore.
Only one thing is clear: this debate will rage on both locally and nationally for years to come.