ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan's early lead on the NFL interceptions list may not mean it's time for the Atlanta Falcons to worry about their quarterback.
Instead, Ryan's uncharacteristic bad decisions and rushed passes are evidence the Falcons better brace for continued all-out pressure from opposing pass rushes. Until Atlanta's overhauled offensive line provides consistent protection, the quarterback can expect to see more blitzes like he faced against Philadelphia on Sunday night.
Ryan has thrown five interceptions through two games after throwing only seven in 2018. He was sacked four times and threw two interceptions in Atlanta's opening loss at Minnesota on Sept. 8.
Another game with too many interceptions didn't stop him from finally taking advantage of too many gambles by the Philadelphia defense. Seeing the Eagles were about to leave no safeties in pass defense in another blitz, Ryan called a fourth-down screen pass to Julio Jones that clicked for the decisive 54-yard touchdown play in the Falcons' 24-20 win over the Eagles.
Ryan, 34, said the pressure he faced from the Philadelphia pass rush was unprecedented in his 12-year career. He matched his three touchdown passes with three interceptions.
"It's probably the most all-out pressure I've seen in my entire career, consistently throughout the course of the game, and so when you're going against that, there's going to be feast and famine," he said.
Coach Dan Quinn dismissed Ryan's early problems with interceptions.
"I'm not concerned because I don't think that's going to be the norm," Quinn said. "It hasn't been his history."
Injuries have contributed to the pattern of ongoing adjustments on the line, which allowed only one sack against the Eagles.
Big plays on defense are on the rise. Desmond Trufant had two interceptions and Vic Beasley Jr., Adrian Clayborn and Grady Jarrett had sacks. Takk McKinley had a tackle for a loss and linebacker Deion Jones provided the best proof he has recovered his speed after his 2018 foot injury.
Defense was a rising strength before Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen missed big chunks of last season. Holding the Eagles to 49 yards rushing on 21 carries should be a confidence builder for the unit.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Devonta Freeman has a combined 41 yards rushing with no run longer than 9 yards through two games. If defenses don't respect Freeman as a runner, it will become increasingly difficult for Ryan to have success with his play-action passes — a staple of the offense. Freeman had three carries for 18 yards in Atlanta's first five plays against the Eagles. His next two carries were for losses and he became an afterthought in the game plan.
Ito Smith had a 28-yard run on one of his four carries and could soon earn a bigger role if Freeman can't rediscover the form that produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016. Freeman needs a better commitment from offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Julio Jones had the biggest play but Calvin Ridley had a team-leading eight catches for 105 yards, including a 34-yarder for a touchdown. It's his second straight game with a touchdown after his 10 scoring catches as a rookie in 2018.
Tight end Luke Stocker lost a fumble, recovered by teammate Mohamed Sanu, following his only catch. Stocker also missed a block before Freeman was tackled for a loss on the first possession.
Punter Matt Bosher was unavailable for his normal kickoff duty after straining his groin in pregame drills. Sanu practiced his kickoffs following Bosher's injury, but instead Matt Bryant kicked off and Bosher punted. Bosher obviously was not at full strength; his longest of three punts carried only 42 yards.
Rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary returned after leaving the game with a knee injury. The Falcons already have lost their other first-round pick, guard Chris Lindstrom, for at least eight weeks with a broken foot. Tackle Matt Gono missed his second straight game with a back injury.
300 — Ryan's third touchdown pass was the 300th of his career, tying John Elway for 11th place.
The Falcons (1-1) play three of their next four games on the road, including Sunday's game at Indianapolis. The Colts hold a dominant 14-2 advantage in the series, most recently a 24-21 win at Atlanta in 2015.