GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Falcons (8-0) at Saints (3-5), 1 p.m. Sunday

QB corner: Matt Ryan discusses the Saints

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 2-5 as a starter against the New Orleans Saints.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith look on in apparent dismay. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith look on in apparent dismay. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Ryan won his first meeting against them, a 34-20 victory in his rookie season of 2008. He also engineered a 27-24 overtime road victory over the Saints in 2010.

He didn’t play in the second game against them in 2009 because of a turf-toe injury.

To prepare for the 3-5 Saints, Ryan watched them throttle Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on “Monday Night Football.”

“Then, I got back in here on Tuesday and watched on the coaches’ copy on film,” Ryan said. “They blitzed and did a really good job of creating pressure. It’s something I expect we’ll probably see a bit of this week.”

Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.

Q: Do the Falcons have to run the ball successfully against the Saints to win?

A: I think it’s just how the game shakes out. Anytime that we can run the football and get (Michael Turner) going and our offensive line going, it helps us play well.

Q: How do you rate the Saints safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins?

A: Roman Harper is a physical guy. He’ll come down (into the box). He likes to mix it up in the run game. They do good job of blitzing both of those guys, actually. In coverage, they are both athletic.

Q: Did defensive end Cam Jordan flash at you during your film study?

A: I think he has like six sacks. I think he had three last week. He’s a guy that is playing well. I think he’s coming into his own, a younger guy who is probably becoming more confident.

The X-factor: Saints quarterback Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during the second quarter. AP

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during the second quarter. AP

Under the guidance of now-suspended coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints have dominated Mike Smith’s teams over the past four seasons, including an embarrassing 45-16 flogging at the Superdome last season.

Brees, who was left in that blowout to break Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season passing mark, is on the hot seat for this game.

While the Falcons lead the overall regular-season series 45-40, Brees has guided the Saints to a 8-2 mark. The Saints have won three of the past four meetings and 10 of the past 12.

Brees, a six-time Pro Bowler, is having another strong campaign. He has competed 209 of 342 passes for 2,549 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His passer rating is 95.8.

“Drew is Drew,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Drew has prepared well all year long. Drew loves playing this game. Drew loves preparing for these type of games. Drew is doing great.”

The Falcons don’t consider revenge as a motive for wanting to take down the Saints, who are 3-5 and reeling from the “Bounty Gate” scandal.

“That’s what they chose to do,” defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. “We were playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and they were playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We didn’t see any harm with what they did last year.”

Vitt believes the Saints leaned on Brees too much early in the season. He plans to balance the offense by using their three running backs: Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.

“For the first time this past week, we really dedicated ourselves to finding a role for these guys and (did some) game-planning to their strengths,” Vitt said. “To be quite frank, they were under-utilized early in the season. We have settled into a package where we can get all three of those guys those touches and their looks and be positive with it.”

On the hot seat: Stephen Nicholas, William Moore

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has been a matchup nightmare for the Falcons.

Here, Stephen Nicholas (54) is flying over the top of the pile of Falcons as they stop the 49ers' Frank Gore (21) in the first quarter. Johnny Crawford / jcrawford@ajc.com

Here, Stephen Nicholas (54) is flying over the top of the pile of Falcons as they stop the 49ers' Frank Gore (21) in the first quarter. Johnny Crawford / jcrawford@ajc.com

Last season, he caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the Saints’ 26-23 win at the Georgia Dome. In the second meeting, at the Superdome in a 45-16 rout of the Falcons, Graham caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Linebacker Stephen Nicholas and safety William Moore will have primary coverage responsibilities and will be on the hot seat for this NFC South game.

Graham, who has been slowed by an ankle injury, is coming off a strong game against Philadelphia. He caught eight passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Graham also dropped a pass and has seven drops this season.

He had a breakout season in 2011, with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has 38 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns this season, despite missing a game with an ankle injury.

“Jimmy Graham is practicing well,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Jimmy Graham played last week. Jimmy Graham is fine.”

This is the second big assignment for Nicholas and Moore. They held Dallas tight end Jason Witten to seven catches for 51 yards last week.

“I thought (Nicholas) did a nice job in the game taking charge of the tight end,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

Connections: Lofton now plays for the Saints

Linebacker Curtis Lofton, who led the Falcons in tackles over the past three seasons, thought he would be with the team for a long time.

New Orleans Saints linebackers Curtis Lofton (50) and Will Herring (54) during OTA workouts at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Saints linebackers Curtis Lofton (50) and Will Herring (54) during OTA workouts at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

But when the Falcons balked at paying market value for a linebacker they thought struggled in pass coverage, he left to sign a five-year $27.5 deal with rival New Orleans Saints.

“He’s a player that plays really hard and with tenacity,” Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. “He’s a great linebacker who takes on any challenge that comes his way.”

Other connections include:

  • Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s dad, Dick Nolan, was the Saints’ coach from 1978-80.
  • Falcons quarterback Luke McCown was in training camp with the Saints in 2012.
  • Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Falcons defensive John Abraham were teammates with the New York Jets from 2004-05.
  • Saints running back Mark Ingram played at Alabama with Falcons guard-tackle Mike Johnson and wide receiver Julio Jones.
  • Saints safety Rafael Bush signed with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent from South Carolina State in 2010.
  • Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson coached the defensive line for the Falcons from 2001-06.
  • Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi was a defensive assistant for the Falcons in 2006.
  • Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety William Moore played with quarterback Chase Daniel at Missouri.
  • Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud played with Saints defensive end Jordan Cameron and center Brian de la Puente at California.

Stat corner: Falcons run defense vs. Saints rushing attack

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) pulls away from the tackle of Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Akeem Dent (52) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) pulls away from the tackle of Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Akeem Dent (52) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Falcons’ run defense is coming off two strong performances, in which the team held the Eagles (92 yards) and the Cowboys (65 yards) to under 100 yards rushing.

The Falcons have climbed from 28th against the run to 24th, and the continued improvement of second-year middle linebacker Akeem Dent is a factor.

“I thought Akeem played a good game (against Dallas),” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “He did a nice job. The atmosphere of a Sunday night, Dallas Cowboys, lots of noise, (but) a lot going on didn’t disrupt him. He was very much into the game. I was really pleased. His (position) coach, Glenn Pires, said the same thing.”

The Saints will try to unleash their three-headed running back monster of Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram. In their win over the Eagles on Monday night, the Saints had 25 rushes and 27 pass attempts.

Ivory, who was wasting away on the bench over the first seven games, had 10 rushes for 48 yards and a touchdown. Ingram had seven rushes for 44 yards and Pierre Thomas had six for 44 yards.

“They bring some uniqueness to the table,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “While they are all productive and kind of the same, they all have a little niche. So moving forward, we just have to make sure that we keep them involved in the offense.”

Some contend that Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner and a first-round pick (28th overall), has been a disappointment.

“Mark Ingram, we believe is an elite back, who after having some offseason surgery is starting to come around,” Vitt said.

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100 comments Add your comment

Adogg36

November 10th, 2012
5:25 am

We got to do what we got to do Dis week Go!!!!Birds!!!! RISE UP!!!

lowdownjj

November 10th, 2012
5:42 am

Lofton doesn’t look too happy to be an Ain’t in that picture. And he won’t find this week very funny either. As Rowdy#84 said, “I don’t like anything about the Aints!” Tomorrow we get some payback. Coons roll up 500 yards of total offense on this D…so sorry Curtis. RISE UP!

lowdownjj

November 10th, 2012
5:48 am

And while I don’t mind the Ain’t hating and bashing by Rowdy and crew (I would worry if ANY Coon fan or player didn’t feel that way) I REALLY wish he would not predict 16-0. Stay focused Falcons. 1 game at a time is a cliche…that is very true. Besides 16-0 ain’t $hit without those last 3 wins in the tournament

lowdownjj

November 10th, 2012
5:50 am

D-LED…do ya know who the Aints will start for Strief @ RT? Please tell me its Bryce Harris

stauff

November 10th, 2012
6:17 am

There is no better rivalry than with the Aints. I read an ESPN arts that said this is a fairly recent rivalry because the teams were so bad for so long. That’s not true. I’ve hated the Aints as long as I can remember, always hated seeing, I think it was Charlie’s marching Aints. In Georgia, we hate them!

Jp

November 10th, 2012
6:17 am

Why am I up reading this at 5 am?

Samuel

November 10th, 2012
7:33 am

Just go out there and kick some ass, confidence is everything. Rise Up!

Elderly

November 10th, 2012
7:58 am

I think it’s pretty simple this week: we have to get some pressure on Brees. If we don’t/can’t, he’ll do what he does, i.e. complete about 30 passes. Then it will be a shoot-out, which we definitely don’t want. I’m most concerned about not having Spoon tomorrow. Nicholas is a bit stiff in coverage, and Peterson has slowed a bit the past few years, so I’m worried about backs coming out of the backfield, and also the TE.

Esquire

November 10th, 2012
8:00 am

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Denver @ Carolina
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Esquire

November 10th, 2012
8:16 am

(reprinted without permission)
The Caints have officially ruled running back Darren Sproles out for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, NOLA.com reported.

Esquire

November 10th, 2012
8:30 am

@Elderly
November 10th, 2012
7:58 am

I think it’s pretty simple this week: we have to get some pressure on Brees. If we don’t/can’t, he’ll do what he does, i.e. complete about 30 passes. Then it will be a shoot-out, which we definitely don’t want. I’m most concerned about not having Spoon tomorrow. Nicholas is a bit stiff in coverage, and Peterson has slowed a bit the past few years, so I’m worried about backs coming out of the backfield, and also the TE.
***************************************
Nicholas and Peterson aren’t on crutches, they’ll be ok. We did a great job on Witten in the Dallas game but again Romo is no Brees. Brees has averaged 26 completions per game thus far in 2012.
Even in your shoot out scenario we are able to go toe to toe with the Caints. I think we are going to pile on some rushing yardage too. The Caints will score points but more importantly we will score more than them…………..that’s a W……!!!

zorro

November 10th, 2012
8:39 am

Do you have a man crush on the saint’s play caller, cause man you really went out of your way to bring us up on this guy. If I was just moving here from another state I would be a little confuse in reading your article,as to played for what team. All the stats on the saint’s play caller leave me to believe that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons don’t have a chance in He!!, of going to NO and winning. But the way I see this team playing I strongly believe they will win and in good fashion, a few saint’s will be taken off the field. Blood( defense) Sweat(Offense) Tears(special team) now it’s time once again to rise UP

shesoleo

November 10th, 2012
8:48 am

We will win if? 1. Stay focused, 2. Keep pressure on Brees, 3. Win the turn over battle, but don’t worry WE GOT THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

zorro

November 10th, 2012
8:51 am

I Don’t like Kenny Albert calling our game this guy is bad news. Just listen to how he belittle our team.Oh! and thanks for info esquire @8:00 am

David

November 10th, 2012
10:29 am

It would be sweet to beat the aint’s, and stop Brees TD record. Falcons 24 aint’s 3

blove

November 10th, 2012
10:45 am

U garbage A$$ fans . Y’all ain’t Winn’in . Cause y’all a bunch of frauds

Adogg36

November 10th, 2012
10:47 am

IF ONE GAME SCARE ME DIS ONE DO.RISE!!!BUT DON’T POP!!!

Still Gritz Blitz'n

November 10th, 2012
12:46 pm

The Red & Black owe them some ‘get back’, no mercy birds, no mercy, eat them aint’s alive!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

November 10th, 2012
1:19 pm

Jp – Thanks for reading at 5 a.m.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

November 10th, 2012
1:20 pm

lowdownjj -- Let me call my folks down in NO to find out the RT starter for you.

terrell

November 10th, 2012
2:46 pm

lowdownjj, Roddy was asked if he thought the Falcons could go 16-0, and he said he thought they had the talent to do it. Nothing wrong with that. What was he supposed to say? No? lol

Michael M.

November 10th, 2012
4:32 pm

If Daren Sproles is out for the Caints…………………I know we will clobber them and dust off the logo on the field and take a dump on it …………………it is time for some Falcons Payback and it hasbeen long overdue ! Atlanta – 34 Caints – 21

DirtyBirdinCali

November 11th, 2012
1:14 am

http://m.espn.go.com/nfl/story?storyId=8606928

Ryan is better than Brees, proof is in the numbers (see link above).

meme

November 11th, 2012
7:50 am

folks in NO I knew it {ya gotta get up earlier than this ta slip one by meme}

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
8:32 am

blove
November 10th, 2012
10:45 am

U garbage A$$ fans . Y’all ain’t Winn’in . Cause y’all a bunch of frauds

***************************************************
Let’s not call our Caints trolls garbage buttocks fans. But you are right, they ain’t winnin’.

Answer This

November 11th, 2012
8:48 am

Woke up
Gave thanks
RISE UP
GET GRILL READY
Rise up again!
ESQUIRE
At 11 strike up the band!

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
9:01 am

5-6-7-8
Everywhere we goooO,
Everywhere we goooO,
People wanna knooOw,
People wanna knooOw,
Who we aaa are,
Who we aaa are,
So we tell theem, So we tell theem,
We are the FALCONS!! We are the FALCONS!!
MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS, MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS !!
OHH AHH OHH YEEAHH

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
9:06 am

Let’s put a beat down on the Aints so bad they just don’t want to show up at the GA Dome Nov 29th!!!

Open up a can baby!!!!

http://tinyurl.com/b39fgym

meme

November 11th, 2012
9:07 am

Esq I usually agree with ya but kinda liked bloves comment ugly but true whattayado

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
9:38 am

What are they saying down there? They’re saying #55 is gonna have a field day!!

http://tinyurl.com/apr8dbf

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
9:50 am

meme
November 11th, 2012
9:07 am

Esq I usually agree with ya but kinda liked bloves comment ugly but true whattayado
****************************************************
meme, I could be wrong but my thinking was that bloves was a Caints fan and his pointed attack was against the Falcon Nation!!!

Rick Patel

November 11th, 2012
10:02 am

Don’t forget, Drew Brees is a $multi-million prima-donna quarterback who held out for even more $millions. Shouldn’t the Falcons be very afraid?

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
10:04 am

D. Orlando Ledbetter
November 10th, 2012
1:20 pm

lowdownjj — Let me call my folks down in NO to find out the RT starter for you.

***************************************************
Charles Brown……….and the Caint nation is cringing………….!!!

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
10:23 am

TURTSNAP

November 11th, 2012
11:03 am

Where is Matt “Choke” Ryan these days? Did he change his name and become a Ryan supporter? LMAO!!

Rise Up # 9

November 11th, 2012
11:18 am

Enter your comments here

goFalcons

November 11th, 2012
12:28 pm

THE AINTS RAN UP THE SCORE LAST TIME AND WE HAVE NOT FORGOT ABOUT IT. THE FALCONS ARE GOING RUN THE SCORE UP ANN CALL A TIME OUT WITH 3 SECONDS LEFT TO KICK A 55 YARD FG TO WIN 62-3. I CANT WAIT FOR THIS GAME

phil

November 11th, 2012
12:33 pm

Loss number one on tap…

phil

November 11th, 2012
12:34 pm

Sorry, goFalcons, but you’re out of your mind.

We’ll be very lucky just to win. This bunch is awake now and primed to crush us.

Yorker

November 11th, 2012
12:37 pm

Falcons win in a laugher.

phil

November 11th, 2012
12:39 pm

A laugher, eh?

You guys are nuts.

goFalcons

November 11th, 2012
12:42 pm

PHIL STOP ACTING LIKE A FALCONS FAN. FALCONS GOING KILL THE AINTS AND DON’T NEED YOUR NEGATIVE CRAP ON HERE. YOU WITH US OR AGAINST US AND YOU BETTER UNDERSTAND WE PUT BEAT DOWNS ON TEAMS

Still Gritz Blitz'n

November 11th, 2012
12:42 pm

Man, da’ who wacked nation down in n’olens are runn’n out of material, they ain’t got no material that holds any weight.

meme

November 11th, 2012
12:43 pm

Still Gritz Blitz'n

November 11th, 2012
12:46 pm

Some people just need to pull their bottom lip over their heads & swallow.

goFalcons

November 11th, 2012
12:51 pm

Who would be afraid of this game? I love playing the aints. it is the hardest hitting game(s) in the NFL. No other NFL rivalry can match it.

Still Gritz Blitz'n

November 11th, 2012
12:57 pm

O’l Blove still gotta aints brown paper bag over his head, We gotta get some GET BACK today, different breed of Bird fly’n into n’olens, & comin’ to poop on the marde gras parade, we owe ya BIG TIME!

goFalcons

November 11th, 2012
1:13 pm

Falcons will not let up today!!!!!!!!! Falcons score fast and often.

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
1:17 pm

Rick Patel
November 11th, 2012
10:02 am

Don’t forget, Drew Brees is a $multi-million prima-donna quarterback who held out for even more $millions. Shouldn’t the Falcons be very afraid?
*************************************
I don’t begrudge Brees for getting his money.

Oh yeah, we are shakin’ in our cleats …………….lol……!!!

Esquire

November 11th, 2012
1:21 pm

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!!!