Ryan has good protection in Falcons' 2-0 start

Associated Press Modified: September 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm •  Published: September 20, 2012
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta's offensive line is keeping Matt Ryan on his feet.

That's a big reason the Falcons are 2-0.

Ryan has been sacked only twice. He has five touchdown passes with no interceptions as the Falcons prepare to play San Diego, another 2-0 team, on Sunday.

Coach Mike Smith challenged the offensive line in the offseason, saying starting jobs were open for competition. The veterans kept their jobs.

Left tackle Sam Baker is winning compliments from his teammates after surviving the offseason challenge. Baker held Denver's two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil without a sack on Monday night.

"Our offensive line is doing a great job," Ryan said. "Against a really good pass-rushing team, to give up one sack that's a credit to our guys and our tackles played really well. It's a combined effort with the five guys up front and our running backs in pass protection. We've been solid in it, and we need to continue to be solid in it."

Right tackle Tyson Clabo gave up the Broncos' only sack to Von Miller but also played well.

"You've got to give credit to our tackles for stepping up," tight end Tony Gonzalez said Thursday. "This is the best I've seen Sam Baker play. Clabo has always been solid."

Ryan has had enough time to move the offense through the air as the team has struggled to run the ball.

"Through the first two games, they've done a very nice job protecting the quarterback," Smith said after Thursday's practice. "We've done some nice things in terms of the scheme and we've also done some improvement in terms of our one-on-one. Both of our tackles last week had tough draws on both sides of the rush and I thought they did a nice job."

Ryan and Baker were the first two draft picks for general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Smith. Ryan was the third overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft. Baker was picked later in the first round.

This is a crucial season for Baker, whose five-year contract expires after the season. He has had three back surgeries since his rookie season, including two discectomy procedures last year to remove herniated disc material.

Baker appears to be at his best after starting only six games last season. Smith said Baker "is as healthy as he's ever been."

Baker's health will be closely watched, especially after backup Will Svitek suffered a season-ending right arm injury before the season.

A key to the line's success is continuity. Most of the line has been together for five years.

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