In 2008 two quarterbacks were drafted in the first round and would immediately be linked in a battle of “who is the better quarterback” discussions spanning all kinds of sports media outlets. Matt Ryan was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the third pick while the Ravens would trade up to select Joe Flacco with the 18th pick. Ryan was highly touted coming out of Boston College. His 2007 season saw him posting gaudy numbers. 4,507 yards, 31 touchdowns to 19 interceptions and a rating of 127. He would win the ACC Offensive Player of the Year Award, the ACC Player of the Year Award, The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and the Manning Award. Joe Flacco was not as highly decorated. In fact, he found himself as a backup to Tyler Palko at Pittsburgh and would transfer to Delaware so that he could start. Flacco would put up impressive stats in 2007 as well, albeit against lesser competition. His 4,263 yards, 23 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions along with a strong senior bowl showing would get him noticed. Then of course there was the notorious 74 yard long pass in the ESPN quarterback challenge which would best a host of names including Matt Ryan.
The draft came and went and nobody questioned the decision of the Falcons. Many experts thought the Ravens had reached on Flacco and would wind up with another Kyle Boller. Ryan was the starting QB for the Falcons from the get go. The Ravens actually had Joe Flacco as third on their depth chart behind aforementioned Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. An injury to Boller, and a serious tonsil infection suffered by Smith propelled Flacco to starter by default. He had a very impressive pre season and wound up picking up the reigns of the offense and hasn’t looked back since. Comparisons would be made routinely by talk show hosts and the consensus was at least through the earlier years that Matt Ryan was the better quarterback. The numbers however were disturbingly similar. The records were almost identical, the yards thrown for, the number of touchdowns, the number of interceptions, almost everything was nearly the same. Six years later, what does the story tell us now? Here are the overall stats for Joe Flacco up to his last game against Tampa Bay. Here are the stats for Matt Ryan up to his last game against Chicago.
The numbers are pretty close in a few categories but Ryan does beat out Flacco by around 2,000 yards, 30 more touchdowns, a slightly better completion rate, and about six points in QB Rating. Does that mean that Ryan is the better Quarterback? Here is where things can get pretty interesting and where subjective thoughts enter the fray. If you go strictly by the measurable stats you would probably have to agree that Matt Ryan is the better player. The support for Joe Flacco would bring up things like a supporting cast, the playoff records, and what about the biggest game of them all, the Super Bowl? Who had the better teams?
Let’s tackle supporting cast first for Matt Ryan. In 2008 he had a potent ground attack with Micheal Turner churning out almost 1,700 yards and crossed the goal line 17 times. He had one of the best weapons in the game in Roddy White who racked up almost 1,400 yards with seven touchdowns. Micheal Jenkins added almost 800 yards and three touchdowns. 2009 would see a duo of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling combining for almost 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. The receiving unit was once again led by Roddy White’s 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns, but added to the mix was long time Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez who added over 80 receptions, 867 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Micheal Jenkins would also chip in and extra 50 catches for 635 yards and a score. The 2010 season featured Micheal Turner as the main weapon on the ground as he provided nearly 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. Roddy White was once again the man with his team leading 115 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. TE Tony Gonzalez would haul in 70 passes for 656 yards and six touchdowns and then there was Micheal Jenkins adding 505 yards on 41 catches with two touchdowns. 2011 rolled along and so did Micheal Turner once again on the ground. Another 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground helped set up the passing attack. Roddy White was at it again with 100 catches for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez was being his normal excellent self with 80 more catches, 875 yards and seven touchdowns. The difference now is Micheal Jenkins was replaced with Julio Jones. Jones would notch 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. This would mark a change in the offense for the Falcons. 2012 saw Micheal Turner waning with little support from backup Jacquizz Rogers. The duo combined for a nearly 1,200 yards but still managed to add 11 touchdowns. Roddy White turned in another amazing season catching 92 passes for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. Fellow WR Julio Jones added 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez actually led the team with 93 receptions and tallied 930 yards and eight touchdowns. Things went a bit South for the Falcons in 2013. Turner was replaced with Steven Jackson from the Rams and combined with Jacquizz Rogers they failed to get 1,000 yards and only scored six touchdowns between them on the ground. Roddy White would miss three games on the season and his production dropped to 63 catches for 711 yards and only three touchdowns. Julio Jones would only play in five games but would manage 41 catches, 580 yards, and two touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez would have his last hurrah and go out on a high note with 83 grabs for 859 yards and eight touchdowns. All was not lost though because out of nowhere came Harry Douglas who nabbed 85 passes for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. Now let’s take a look at what Joe Flacco had to work with over those same seasons.
In 2008 the Ravens had a three headed attack at running back featuring Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice that combined for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. Leading the way in the receiving game was Derek Mason with 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns. Mark Clayton would add 41 catches for 695 yards and three scores. Lastly TE Todd Heap would chime in with 35 catches, 403 yards, and three touchdowns. 2009 would see a shift to Ray Rice as the primary back but Willis McGahee would add a potent punch to the mix as they combined for over 1,900 yards and 19 touchdowns. Derek Mason would once again be the main man with 73 catches for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns. Mark Clayton would tack on 34 catches for 480 yards with two touchdowns. An injury to him would press almost unknown Kelley Washington into service and he would add another 34 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns. Todd Heap would add 53 catches, 593 yards and six scores. Another weapon burst onto the scene though. Ray Rice out of the backfield caught a team leading 78 passes for 702 yards and a touchdown. 2010 would be the shift in focus on offense for the Ravens. The rushing attack would still be productive but not the main focus. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee once again teamed up to rush for over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns. Derek Mason would reel in 61 passes for 802 yards and seven trips to the endzone. Baltimore would add veteran Anquan Boldin to the mix and he would bring 64 catches, 837 yards, and seven touchdowns to the table. Todd Heap produced 40 catches for 599 yards and five scores. Ray Rice would once again be a big target with 63 catches for 556 yards and a touchdown. 2011 would see Ray Rice leading the charge on the ground with some help from Ricky Williams. The combination put up over 1700 yards and 14 trips to the endzone. Anquan Boldin became the man for the Ravens with 57 grabs for 887 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Torrey Smith’s speed would provide a much needed new dimension to the offense and he would catch 50 passes for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. Todd Heap was gone but the Ravens decided a twin TE set could work wonders. Enter Dennis Pitta with his 40 catches for 405 yards with three touchdowns and Ed Dickson’s 54 grabs for 528 yards and five scores. Ray Rice would lead the team in receptions again with 76 for 704 yards and three touchdowns. 2012 would be the magical season for the Ravens. A rushing attack led by Ray Rice and supported by rookie Bernard Pierce would combine for nearly 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anquan Boldin would be the leader in receiving yards as he gained 921 yards on 65 catches and scored four times. Torrey Smith would continue to contribute with his 49 catches for 855 yards and eight touchdowns. Dennis Pitta would emerge as the primary TE with his 61 hauls for 669 yards with 7 touchdowns. Jacoby Jones was added primarily to help the return game, but his speed helped out on offense as well. Jones added 406 yards on 30 catches with a score. Ray Rice had 61 catches for 478 yards and a touchdown. 2013 would mark a serious downward spiral for the offense. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce couldn’t manage much of an assault combining for just over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Boldin was gone, Pitta was hurt, and only Torrey Smith emerged as a threat as he caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie Marlon Brown stepped up to become a redzone weapon with his 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns. Jacoby Jones added 455 yards and two touchdowns on 37 catches. Ray Rice would catch 58 passes but would only turn them into 321 yards with no endzone trips. Now that the supporting cast statements have been made let’s turn to post season records.
Matt Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs throwing for 1,230 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was voted AP Rookie of the year in 2008 and has been to the Pro Bowl twice; once in 2010 and again in 2012. Joe Flacco is 9-4 in the playoffs and has passed for 2,672 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. This of course also includes a Super Bowl winning performance where he threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. This would earn him his only award so far; perhaps one of the best any player could ever receive, a Super Bowl MVP award.
A case could be made that Joe Flacco was able to accomplish more with less talent on offense. There is also the argument that Joe Flacco had a much better defense to work with than Matt Ryan has in his career. Most people would say that regardless of what the stats are the most important one of all is the win and loss columns. As the late Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby.” There is no bigger win for any player than a Super Bowl. So in the case for which player is the better quarterback, who do you think is the winner? Vote on our poll and let us know and feel free to leave us some comments about why you went with your choice.