Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, despite having an interception returned for a touchdown by Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan last week, still is one of the hotter quarterbacks in the NFL.
As the Falcons have transformed into more of a passing team under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan has thrived. His passer rating of 106.1 is second in the league behind San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith’s 108.7.
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What is your assessment of the Raiders defense?
A: They’ve got two really talented guys in their front four. [Defensive tackle Richard] Seymour, a local guy who played at Georgia and has ties to the area. He’s a very good player. … Their linebacking corps has some good players and early-round draft picks [like Rolando McClain]. They are capable of making plays.
Q: Is Oakland’s 1-3 record deceiving?
A: They’re a good football team. They have talented guys. Offensively, I haven’t seen much of what they’ve done, but I know they have some skill guys that can make some plays and score points. On the defensive side of the ball, they have guys that can change outcomes of games. … When you turn on the tape, it’s a good football team.
Q: Is Oakland defensive end Andre Carter a major concern?
A: Yeah. He had 11 some sacks last year and is a talented guy. I’m sure he’s back. We’ve played against him before. He’s a talented guy. We know what he’s capable of doing, and we’ll have to be prepared for him.
The Raiders’ offense under coordinator Greg Knapp, a former Falcons coordinator, revolves around running back Darren McFadden.
McFadden is the X-factor for Sunday’s game.
The Raiders have not consistently sprung him in their rushing attack. He has 57 rushes for 201 yards (3.4 per carry) and one touchdown. However, the touchdown was a 64-yard run against Pittsburgh, and he has 11 career touchdown plays of 40 yards or more.
“It’s very unique,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said of McFadden’s running style. “He’s got the speed to go the distance. He can lower his shoulder and run. I think he’s got very good vision.”
The Falcons are having a tough time stopping the run. The defense has allowed 142.8 yards rushing per game, 27th in the NFL.
Because of his Olympic sprinter speed, pursuit mistakes against McFadden can quickly turn into six points.
“He’s a guy who can stop and start, put his foot in the ground and go,” Smith said. “He creates some issues. He has some explosive runs in the first four ballgames.”
The Raiders hope they can unleash McFadden and their rushing attack against the Falcons.
“We’ve got to execute in the run game,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “We have to do a better job of creating a new line of scrimmage, be more physical upfront. It’s been a process of trying to get guys to understand what we are trying to do and how we are asking them to do it. We’ve made some strides over this bye week.”
McFadden also is a pass-catching threat. He caught 13 passes in the season opener against San Diego and has 18 catches for 111 yards this season.
When all of their players are healthy, the Raiders could field an 4×100-meter relay team that could run with Olympic medal winners.
The fleet of speed merchants includes Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Taiwan Jones and Darren McFadden.
If the Falcons’ safeties blink, as they did last week against Washington, the Raiders will be in the end zone.
That’s why safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are on the hot seat against the Raiders.
Against Washington, there was a blown coverage over the top of the defense that allowed rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins to find wide receiver Santana Moss streaking down the middle of the field for a 77-yard touchdown.
The otherwise strong play of DeCoud and Moore has been key to the Falcons’ 5-0 record. Despite that play against Washington, DeCoud and Moore have been key to the team’s NFL-leading 10-plus turnover ratio.
“I think they do an outstanding job of keying the quarterback and seeing the quarterback’s eyes,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “They play full speed on every play. They understand where the ball is going, and they do a nice job of understanding route recognition.”
Heyward-Bey had a breakout season in 2011 with 64 catches for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered a concussion against Pittsburgh and missed the Denver game. He’s expected back for the Falcons.
“We have to make sure that he doesn’t get behind us because Carson Palmer can get the ball down the field,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen started his NFL career with the Falcons in 2002 as a defensive quality-control assistant on Dan Reeves’ staff.
He coached with the Falcons through 2005 before moving on to the Saints (2006-10) and Denver (2011).
“It was an awesome experience to work for that organization,” Allen said. “I thought that [Arthur] Blank did an outstanding job with the organization. Dan Reeves was and is, in my opinion, a hall of fame football coach. To be able to start my NFL career under him with that organization was something special. I got a chance to spend four years there, and we had some success.
“We won the playoff game in Green Bay there, and then with Jim Mora, we went to the NFC Championship game. So, I’ve got fond memories of Atlanta.”
Allen’s father, Grady Allen, was a linebacker for the Falcons from 1968-72.
Other connections include:
The Raiders (1-3) have been competitive in the first half of all of their games, but fell apart in the third quarter in three of them.
On the young season, they’ve been outscored 55-7 in the third quarter.
Against San Diego they trailed 10-6 at halftime before losing 22-14. Against Miami they led 10-7 at halftime before losing 35-12. Against Pittsburgh they trailed 17-14 before pulling out a 34-31 victory. Against Denver they trailed 10-6 before being routed 37-6.
Things went haywire in the San Diego game when their backup long snapper had trouble.
Against Miami, running back Reggie Bush got loose on them, and against Denver, it was Peyton Manning-flashback night as he completed 30 of 38 passes.
During the bye week, the Raiders tried to figure out what was happening to them in the third quarter.
“There are a lot of factors that go into that,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “We’ve got to really improve our third-down offense and third-down defense. I think if we’re able to cure that ill, some of those other things will take care of themselves.”