Is Matt Ryan the final piece of the Colts’ Super Bowl puzzle?

from Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Since joining his new team in March, Matt Ryan has worked to get on the same page with his pass catchers for Indianapolis Colts.

That means learning a new offense quickly during the offseason and building chemistry so the Colts click once the regular season begins.

“I definitely think it’s starting now,” Ryan told reporters during the team’s minicamp in June. “There’s so much that goes into understanding guys’ body language. How they move. What is their catch radius and how do they track balls in the air. And they just feel my ball coming in and how it’s going.”

Ryan also said that because the receiving group is so young, there isn’t a large set of plays to watch and learn from, so live reps have helped him get to know receivers like Michael Pittman Jr. The USC product finished with career highs in receptions (88), receiving yards (1,082) and touchdowns (six) in 2021.

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After a disastrous finish to the 2021 regular season that left them out of the playoffs, the Colts moved on from quarterback Carson Wentz, sending him to Washington for two third-round picks. Indianapolis then gave up a third-round pick in this year’s draft in exchange for the 37-year-old Ryan.

Coach Frank Reich is now on his fifth starting quarterback in five years and likely needs to lead Indianapolis to the playoffs to stay. Fortunately for Reich, the 2022 Colts are probably his most talented team in Indianapolis.

Ryan joins an offense led by last season’s NFL leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor, one of the best offensive lines in the league led by guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly, and a talented but young receiving group with Pittman Jr. and tight end Mo Ali-Cox.

“I’m just trying to be a team leader,” Pittman said. “I’m kind of the older guy in this room now, and I’m only going into my third year. But I’m just trying to be the older one in this group.”

And let’s not forget that Indianapolis also has playmakers on defense, led by running back Darius Leonard and defensive end DeForest Buckner. The Colts also added Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency and traded for tight end Yannick Ngakue. Gus Bradley takes over as defensive coordinator, replacing Matt Eberfluss, now head coach of the Chicago Bears.

“I just have confidence for this year and excitement,” Nelson said. “I’m motivated to do well with this squad as many of us are young and in our prime. This is a good year for us to step up.”

All the Colts lacked last season was stability and efficiency at the quarterback position. Ryan has missed just three starts in his 14-year NFL career, all with the Atlanta Falcons. Like Philip Rivers two years before him, Ryan gives Reich a coach on the field who can get his team to start the right play ahead of time and run the offense.

And Ryan can still play.

Despite struggling through four losing seasons in his final years in Atlanta, Ryan didn’t have much of a supporting cast around him and still threw for more than 4,000 yards and at least 20 touchdowns in three of those four seasons.

With Taylor in the backfield, Ryan won’t have to throw for a ton of yards. He just needs to be effective in a balanced offense and play complementary football, making critical plays on third down, in the red zone and closing out games in the fourth quarter.

Ryan said he’s getting to know Reich, a former NFL quarterback who specializes in getting the best out of veteran signal callers.

“It was great,” Ryan said. “I really enjoyed spending time with him in the meeting room, getting a feel for his philosophy as a coach and what he believes in.

“I really feel like we’ve made a lot of really good strides in the last two months in terms of getting on the same page and communicating.”

Reich echoed these sentiments. “Matt was amazing,” the minicamp coach said. “He did a great job, he had great control. Really, from A to Z, he did everything right – great leadership and just great play. He’s taken command of the attack the whole way, it’s been great to collaborate with him, working in nuances with some of the things we do to kind of suit him and his style and learn some things about him.”

With Ryan Reich, there should be a full playbook open. The Boston College product has the NFL experience to run complex schemes and get to the best play. And he also has decent movement skills to manage the action and deployments outside the pocket.

And Ryan still has his fastball. Even with the lack of top-level talent at receiver and a shaky offensive line in Atlanta, Ryan has shown the ability to drive the ball deep down the field for big plays.

Bradley got a close look at Ryan during his time as defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s very sharp,” Bradley said of Ryan. “Against some quarterbacks, you can get away with some things, but not with him. There is a certain way to be attacked by him, but not just with scheme – with the use of his eyes and how he runs a team. He is very polished and I respect him a lot.

“You feel it in this building without a doubt. You feel that part of her.”

Eric D. Williams is an NFL writer for FOX Sports. He has been an NFL reporter for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.

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