Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan can become the first signal-caller in franchise history to guide the team to a 5-0 record.
He faces a Redskins defense that ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (89 per game). The secondary, which features former Falcon DeAngelo Hall, allows 326.5 yards passing per game, which ranks 31st in the league.
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What jumps out at you about Washington’s defense?
A: London Fletcher is one of the better [middle] linebackers in the league. He’s a veteran guy. He’s really like playing a [defensive] coordinator out on the field.
Q: Is the secondary the weak link?
A: They’ve been playing with a lead. One of the things you have to take in consideration is the type of games they’ve been in. Their offense has jumped out in a couple of those games and gotten off to an early lead and forced people to throw the football quite a bit against them. I think that’s why sometimes statistics are a little skewed. They have some talented guys back there.
Q: How have they compensated for the losses of linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive Adam Carriker?
A: They’ve done a good job. [Ryan] Kerrigan, No. 91, has stepped in and done a really nice job. He’s a really good player. He’s a talented guy and very physical, has a high motor, very active. I think their scheme has allowed them to keep pressure in terms of the pass game. The pass rush has been very good. They’ve been very stout against the run, so they’ve done a good job.
Shortly after the NFL scouting combine, the Washington Redskins, determined to return to their glory days, made a mega-trade to land the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft.
They sent three first-round picks and a second-round pick to St. Louis to move up to select Robert Griffin III, the dynamic Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor and the X-factor against the Falcons.
The early returns suggest that it was a shrewd move by the Redskins’ front office.
Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns and threw no interceptions in guiding the Redskins to a victory over the New Orleans Saints in his NFL debut. He became the first player in NFL history to pass for 300-plus yards, throw two or more touchdowns and have no interceptions in his debut.
He was the first rookie to start at quarterback in Week 1 for the Redskins since Norm Snead in 1961.
Through four games Griffin’s passing numbers put him in elite company. With 1,070 yards passing, he joins Carolina’s Cam Newton (2011) and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill (2012) as the players to post 1,000 passing yards in the first four games of a rookie season. (In 2008, Matt Ryan passed for 669 yards in his first four games.)
Griffin has studied the Falcons.
“They are very opportunistic,” he said. “They create a lot of turnovers. They try to strip the ball. They have good ball skills in the secondary, and they play hard. It’s our job to make sure that we protect the ball, but also stay aggressive and try to score points.”
In addition to his passing, Griffin has rushed for 252 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns. Because he has superior speed, he presents a different problem than the Falcons faced against Newton last week.
“They are two different players,” Falcons defensive Ray Edwards said. “They are both are very fast and shifty. RGIII gets up on you a little bit quicker.
After his team’s poor performance against Carolina on Sunday, Falcons coach Mike Smith did all he could to deflect the criticism from his offensive line.
He pointed to receivers not breaking off routes or not knowing if they were the hot route to quarterback Matt Ryan holding onto the ball.
He duly noted that pass protection is a team project.
However, the offensive line should not be let off the hook that easily. They’ll be put to the test against a stout Washington front-seven led by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and middle linebacker London Fletcher.
With the new offensive scheme, the Falcons aren’t asking the line to dominate and maul defenders in pass protection. The attack — with very few five- and seven-step passing drops by Ryan — is designed for them to hold up just long enough for Ryan to get in his rhythm passing mode.
When the Falcons want longer routes, they’ll have to use maximum protection, as they did on Roddy White’s 59-yard catch against Carolina.
“After you look at the tape, you are saying, ‘OK, how could we have helped our protection?’” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Sure, we could have run the ball more, but you are trying to attack what you perceive as the weaknesses in the defense.”
Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall, after being traded twice since 2007, has settled in with the Redskins.
He played with the Falcons from 2004-07 before being traded to the Oakland Raiders, and later to Washington.
“We’ve struggled,” said Hall, who has 36 career interceptions. “If you look at the stats, we’ve definitely struggled with consistency.”
Hall, who got into scuffle along the Falcons’ sidelines the last time these two teams played, seems to have matured.
“DeAngelo Hall is a Pro Bowl-caliber corner, and a guy we’ve played against a couple of times with two different teams in the Raiders and the Redskins,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We know he’s capable of making some plays.”
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Washington is one of several teams this season following a recent trend started by the Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.
Traditionally, teams had elected not to start rookie quarterbacks. Most teams preferred that they served an apprenticeship before being sent out to the field.
But with the shifting economics and owners’ desires to see an immediate return on their investment, the rookie quarterbacks are being shoved onto the field with mixed results.
For the successes of Ryan and Flacco, there’s still Blaine Gabbert flailing away in Jacksonville, Mark Sanchez in New York and Sam Bradford in St. Louis, who in retrospect may have been rushed to the field too quickly.
Washington features rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who’s off to a fabulous start. He was in a class of five rookies — Griffin, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden — who opened the 2012 season as starters. That was the first time that many rookie starters opened a season at the key position since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
“Everybody is looking for that franchise quarterback,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “When you get a guy that you think is a franchise guy, you want to give him as much experience as quickly as you can.”
None of the five rookies have winning records.
“Everyone knows there are going to be some growing pains with it, but I think people are willing to take the risks if they get the opportunity to get some repetitions early in their careers,” Shanahan said.