PALM BEACH, Fla. – One of the first things Frank Reich did when he found out the Colts could actually trade for Matt Ryan was put on the tape of the quarterback making a few specific throws.
The question: Could the 36-year-old quarterback still make strong, accurate throws outside the numbers and deep downfield?
The answer: "I really didn't see any diminishing physical skills," Reich said.
Ryan said upon arriving in Indianapolis that he didn't feel like his career has an expiration date, and Reich's analysis confirmed what's clear for anyone else who turns on the tape: The veteran quarterback can not only still make all the throws, but he can make them at a high level when it counts.
Take a 64-yard strike Ryan threw to Cordarrelle Patterson in Week 9 as one example. With about a minute left and the Falcons chasing a one-point deficit against the Saints in New Orleans, Ryan identified one-on-one coverage on the boundary and – with pressure in his face – ripped a strike that traveled about 40 yards in the air, throwing Patterson open in the process. The end result was a Falcons field goal and yet another game-winning drive for Ryan, whose 42 game-winning drives rank seventh all time.
A few weeks earlier, Ryan – with the Falcons down by one just after the two-minute warning – rifled a 28-yard completion from the far hash to the sideline to tight end Kyle Pitts. That drive, too, ended in a game-winning field goal, adding to Ryan's impressive career total.
Those are just a couple examples (a 49-yard shot against Miami, where he threw wide receiver Russell Gage open beyond two safeties for a touchdown, is another). But they point to why Reich, on Monday, said he's "super excited" about coaching Ryan in Indianapolis beginning this year.
"(He) brings in elite leadership, elite accuracy," Reich said at the NFL Annual Meeting. "Just been a model of consistency but also a model of consistency at a very high level. Showing the ability to carry a team in those moments when you need to carry a team.
"One of the quote-un-quote unique stats that jumps out about Matt is how many fourth quarter winning drives he's had. One of the other stats that jumps out to me about Matt is his completion percentage over so many years. It's just so consistent. I think it's a really great fit for the offense, for our team."
Ryan's career completion percentage – 65.5 percent – ranks third all-time among quarterbacks with at least 3,000 pass attempts.
The challenge for Reich, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and the Colts' coaching staff over the next few weeks and months will be fitting Ryan to their offense – and fitting their offense to Ryan. It's a process Reich is familiar with, for better or for worse.
"I actually enjoy that a lot," Reich said, "not that I want to do that every year."
Reich detailed what will go into that process in the more immediate future.
"It starts with listening," Reich said. "Listen to the quarterback. Sit down and listen to what he likes, what has been successful at. Watch his tape. Get to know him — how he thinks, what he believes.
"The whole time you're sitting there listening and I know what we believe, I know what we've done well, and as he's talking I'm envisioning — that fits, that fits, I haven't thought about that, we can do that, that can fit here, that would be a little bit new, we have to think that through but maybe that works.
"And then probably somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the offense is pretty similar and 10 to 20 percent of it is maybe a little bit nuanced or just a different point of emphasis."
There will be an acclimation process for Ryan on language – the usual you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to/you say dagger, I say in-cut – but both Reich and Ryan have been through that over their decades in the NFL. The stuff that matters to Ryan, he said last week, is hammering out his protection responsibilities and what the progressions are intended to be on each passing play the Colts install.
And Reich, too, feels like going through this process again provides another opportunity for him to grow as a coach.
"I have found those conversations have made me better and they've made me a smarter, better football coach," Reich said. "Because for five years in a row now I'm going to have to sit down with a new quarterback and hear what they think, what they believe, why they believe what they believe. So there's some value to that as well."
Ultimately, Reich feels fortunate to even be able to go through this process with Ryan. A few weeks ago, as the Colts evaluated the quarterback landscape, Ryan wasn't on it. But when he emerged on that landscape – with Indianapolis his preferred destination if he left Atlanta – and Reich evaluated what he brings to the table, the fifth-year Colts coach came away feeling fortunate for the opportunity to get to work with him in a couple weeks when players can re-convene at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Lucky, blessed — whatever you want to call it," Reich said. "We're very thankful that Matt became available. It's a credit to Chris (Ballard), his leadership of being poised, we weren't going to panic. We knew the options that were out there and we were committed to making one of those options work."