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Ryan driven to improve in 5th season
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Matt Ryan wasn't satisfied to set a Falcons record for yards passing in a season in 2011.

He wasn't content to join Dan Marino and Joe Flacco as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to win at least 40 games in their first four seasons.

So about three weeks after the Falcons' wild-card playoff loss to the Giants, Ryan was ready to start working for a better postseason finish.

"Matt was the first guy in the weight room this offseason," coach Mike Smith said after Thursday's opening to training camp.

"I believe he took somewhere between two and three weeks off before he popped back into the building. When you have your quarterback in as the first guy in, I think that's a positive thing. When he came in, it's funny how other guys started to trickle in."

Ryan said he's determined to improve. He wants to bring the Falcons the postseason success the team has missed in his four seasons as the starting quarterback.

His franchise-record 4,177 yards passing last season meant little when he and Smith fell to 0-3 in the playoffs. The offense fell flat in the 24-2 loss to the Giants.

The Falcons have put together four straight winning seasons, but now Ryan is driven to deliver more than regular-season success.

Ryan said the only way he knows to be better is to work harder, and that has driven him as he prepared for training camp.

"I think the biggest thing is when you look at the past season and leading up to this point in your career, I certainly haven't been where I need to be," Ryan said.

"I haven't been as good as I think I can be. I don't know any other way to improve but to work harder and to try and find ways to get better. That's something I think all of us have done. I think everybody has taken a good, hard look at themselves and tried to find ways to improve."

Smith said he sees the result of Ryan's offseason.

"I see it in Matt's strength," Smith said. "I know some of you are saying well he doesn't look like he's that much bigger, but when you're slight like Matt is and you have the body type he is, you're working with percentages and Matt has done a good job with his body.

"He looked good throwing the football and if you start the season stronger you're obviously going to finish the season stronger and that's something we have talked to our entire football team about, being a team that finishes everything that we do."

Starting every game for the third time in his four seasons, Ryan set career highs with his 29 touchdown passes, 92.2 passer rating and six 300-yard games. The Falcons finished 10-6.

Ryan has a new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter. There could be more screen passes, and possibly a bigger commitment to the passing game overall, as Koetter and Ryan find ways to get the ball to receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner.

"Matt and I spent a lot of time watching tape together," said Koetter, the former Jacksonville offensive coordinator. "That's one of the things I like the most about Matt. Matt will look you in the eye and tell you how he sees it and what he thinks. At the same token, I can tell him what I think and what I see and what the coaching staff thinks.

"He takes coaching well but yet he also gives good feedback. You can't ask for better than that."

"I think everybody is impressed with how smart he is and also how receptive he is to our input, too," Ryan said. "I think he understands we've done some things pretty well around here and wants to take that into account but also find areas where we can improve."