Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan knows how to lift the curtain for the home opener, which is Monday night against the Denver Broncos.
He’s 4-0 in home openers, and the Falcons have averaged 32.2 points in those victories over Detroit (34-21 in 2008), Miami (19-7 in 2009), Arizona (41-7 in 2010) and Philadelphia (35-31 in 2011).
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What type of challenge does the offense face in Denver pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller?
A: They are really talented guys. … They are guys that when you game plan, you game plan accordingly to protect yourself against what they can do. It will come down to execution.
Q: What’s your evaluation of their corners Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter?
A: I think both of them are really good. We know Tracy from having played in New Orleans. He’s a talented guy, a guy who can make some plays. He’s aggressive. Clutch. When you look back at the Super Bowl [against the Colts three seasons ago] he can come up with big plays at the right time. Then Champ Bailey, we don’t see him as often, but when you watch him on film, he’s a really, really solid player. Very talented. He’s been to the Pro Bowl 11 times, so that speaks for itself. It’s going to be a good matchup for us.
Q: How different will it be seeing Keith Brooking on the other side?
A: We played Brooking a couple of years ago in Dallas. It’s always good. … I think he played nine snaps last week. I’m sure he’ll be in there in different situations. We know Keith. He’s talented against run or pass. He’ll do a good job for them.
Falcons running back Michael Turner was held to 32 yards on 11 carries in the opener against Kansas City.
Turner, a two-time Pro Bowler, will be needed against the Broncos on Monday night and is the X-factor for the game.
If the Falcons don’t establish the rushing attack, they won’t be able to play keep-away from Peyton Manning and the Denver offense.
Turner expects tough sledding against a rugged Denver defense.
“Nobody talks about their linebacking corps, but they are a great defense,” Turner said. “They played a great game against Pittsburgh last week.”
The Broncos’ starting linebackers are Wesley Woodyard (from LaGrange), Joe Mays and Von Miller. Former Falcons standout Keith Brooking backs up Woodyard at weakside linebacker and plays in mostly run situations.
“We have to run the ball, especially when you have a great quarterback like Peyton Manning on the other side,” Turner said. “We have to control the clock, control the tempo of the game, and hopefully we can keep them off the field as much as possible and score touchdowns. You don’t want give that guy any extra chances to beat you.”
Turner had four 100-yard games in six matchups against John Fox when he was the coach of the Carolina Panthers.
“We felt like it was an advantage for us to throw last week,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s one of those things where we think we can do whatever we need to do. I think we are talented that way. If we have to run it 50 times, we’ll run it 50 times. It’s just the way that certain games shake out.”
Quite frankly, the Falcons haven’t spent a lot of time on the running game in the offseason, and Turner is getting used to new fullback Lousaka Polite.
“We want to take what they give us, but obviously it does start up front with the running game,” center Todd McClure said.
(Spoon was limited last week with a hamstring injury and is questionable for the game.)
Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the team’s defensive signal-caller, put in some extra study sessions after practices to prepare for his matchup with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
“Yes, I do,” said Weatherspoon when asked if he considered part of this game to be a matchup of wits with Manning. “It starts with the linebackers, getting the call from the sidelines. They are going to try to up-tempo us a little bit, so it’s our job to match his tempo.”
Weatherspoon, who was limited in practice with a hamstring injury, is basically the quarterback of the defense from his weakside linebacker spot. Keeping his poise against Manning will be key.
“That will be a big part of my game trying to make sure that I keep everybody in a comfortable mood, where we are locked in and ready to go,” Weatherspoon said. “We don’t want to be out there panicking. When they look at me when I’m getting the calls, if I’m confident, we all will be confident. I think that will help us win the game.”
One problem the Broncos present is their “22” formation — two running backs and two tight ends. Most teams like the run in that formation, but with an athletic-pass catching tight end in Jacob Tamme, the Broncos will pass from the formation.
“That’s poses a challenge, but we are tuned into him,” Weatherspoon said. “The coaches have done a great job of game planning.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith (2003-07) and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (2007-11) both were on the
staff in Jacksonville when Jack Del Rio was the head coach.
Del Rio now is Denver’s defensive coordinator.
“Jack gave me my first opportunity in the NFL, so I will always be indebted to him for that,” Koetter said. “But this is a players’ game, and we are both in new situations. We are both trying to earn our way with new teams. It’s nothing more than that.”
Also, Denver is led by former Carolina Panthers coach John Fox, who’s in his second season with the team. Smith holds a 4-2 record in games against Fox.
Other connections include:
After a 20-month layoff because of neck surgery, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only four-time MVP, was sharp in his return.
He completed 19 of 26 passes (73.1 percent) for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-19 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Falcons’ secondary allowed 258 yards passing and one touchdown to Kansas City’s Matt Cassel and will be without their top cover corner in Brent Grimes, who suffered an Achilles injury and is out for the season.
Dunta Robinson will shift to right cornerback, and Christopher Owens will play nickel back.
Cornerback Asante Samuel talks a big game, but he prepares thoroughly by watching lots of film. He’s the locker-room expert on Manning.
“He’s had some experience going against Peyton, and I’m sure he can enlighten [the cornerbacks] on a lot of things,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Peyton is a very good quarterback, and we will try and gain an advantage any way we can. We’ll use the resources that Asante has in terms of the number of games he’s played against him.”
Samuel has put in a lot of film work this week to be ready for Manning.
“I think it’s quality over quantity,” Samuel said. “I watch a lot of film, but it’s about watching the right things and taking the right things from the tape and applying it to the game to make your game that much better. I do my studying. … There is definitely a method to how I flow out there.”
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