FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 2-5 as a starter against the New Orleans Saints.
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.
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.”
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has been a matchup nightmare for the Falcons.
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.
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.
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.”
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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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