GAMEDAY CENTRAL: Saints vs. Falcons at 8:20 p.m. tonight

QB corner: Matt Ryan discusses the Saints

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a 2-6 record against the New Orleans Saints and hasn’t beaten them at the Georgia Dome since his rookie season in 2008.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

The Falcons are 31-6 at the Dome over Ryan’s career, but three of those losses were to the Saints.

Ryan believes the fans’ support can help the 10-1 Falcons beat those pesky Saints.

“Anytime you play at home, it certainly helps,” Ryan said. “Our fans have given unbelievable support, and that’s been awesome.”

Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham.

Q: Will the Falcons do anything different against the Saints this time around?

A: The last time we played them we fell short a little bit in the red zone. For us, playing against New Orleans, it’s imperative when you have your opportunities in that part of the field, you have to take advantage of that and score touchdowns.

Q: Does the team have more energy when it’s Saints week?

A: It’s any time you’re in the division. They always have just a little bit different feel to them. This has been an organization, the Saints, that have been at a high level since I’ve been in the NFL. We need to play our best, and that’s what we need to focus on. I think everybody’s energy will be where it needs to be.

Q: Why have the Saints been able to dominate the series in recent years?

A: I think multiple reasons.

The X-Factor: Saints quarterback Drew Brees

Despite all of the turmoil the Saints have been through this season with “Bounty Gate,” they are 5-6 and clinging to a chance to make the playoffs.

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

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

They have rebounded from a slow start and perhaps need to run the table in order to have a shot at the postseason.

No one is discounting them because they have quarterback Drew Brees, who will be the X-factor against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

In the first meeting, Brees completed 21 of 32 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 113.8. He was sacked once and had one interception.

He’ll need to have another big game in order for the Saints to climb back to .500. The Saints have beaten the Falcons 11 of the past 13 times, including the past two meetings at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons, with a chance to wrap up the NFC South title and move closer to a playoff berth, have taken a business-like approach to the game on a short week.

“We’ve got to be able to match tight in coverage and make sure that we don’t get caught with our backs to the quarterback,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “That’s when he likes to throw the ball and let his guys make plays on the ball.”

Brees, who stayed in the game last season despite the 45-16 blowout in order to break a record, is not coming off of one of his better performances.

San Francisco shut down the Saints’ running game and then unleashed their furious pass rush at Brees and sacked him five times.

The Falcons have had trouble getting to Brees and studied his play against the 49ers on Sunday intensely this week.

“I just think their overall intensity was great,” DeCoud said. “They were flying around and hitting people, no matter what. They were getting people on the ground.”

The Falcons hope they can mimic the 49ers defense.

“I think if we can match that kind of intensity and bring that intensity to the game, we can have the same kind of defense that they do,” DeCoud said.

On the hot seat: The Falcons pass defense

The Falcons have struggled to mount much of a pass rush against Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Safety Thomas DeCoud laid a big hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Monday Night Football on Nov. 2. The hit led to a Falcons touchdown.

Safety Thomas DeCoud laid a big hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Monday Night Football on Nov. 2. The hit led to a Falcons touchdown.

Falcons coach Mike Smith insists that sacks are overrated and that the Falcons want to affect the quarterback.

By either measure, sacks or affecting the quarterback with hits, the Falcons have struggled, and the pass defense will be on the hot seat for this game.

When the teams met Nov. 11, the Falcons had one sack and one quarterback hit. In their two losses to the Saints in 2011, the Falcons had one sack and four quarterback hits. In those games, the Saints’ offensive tackles shut out the Falcons defensive ends.

Linebacker Stephen Nicholas had the sack against the Saints on Nov. 11 and defensive tackle Vance Walker in a 45-16 rout last season.

But there appears to be a crack in the Saints’ pass protection. San Francisco registered five sacks against the Saints last week and forced Brees to throw the ball away several times.

The Falcons already know what their plight is if they can’t affect Brees.

Also, the Falcons’ secondary can help give the rushers a chance to get to Brees by playing tighter coverage. They plan to pay special attention to tight end Jimmy Graham.

The Falcons plan to alternate defenders on Graham, including linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who didn’t play Nov. 11. They also planned to bump him with defensive ends to slow his releases.

“We don’t just don’t want him running around,” Weatherspoon said. “That’s just like playing basketball. That’s what he’s comfortable doing.”

Connections: Lofton set to make his Georgia Dome debut as a Saint

Curtis Lofton used to play for the Falcons.

Curtis Lofton used to play for the Falcons.

Former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton is set to make his debut as a visitor at the Georgia Dome.

“There’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions,” Lofton said. “It’s going to be a weird feeling seeing all of the people, the security guards and ticket people. I was good friends with them, and it’ll be good to see them.”

Lofton wants to put on a show for the team that balked at re-signing him in free agency.

“I want to play great, but I’m not going to put more pressure on myself, put on a Superman cap and do this and do that,” Lofton said. “I’m going to play inside the system.”

Other connections include:

  • Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was a scout for the Cleveland Browns while Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael was on the Browns’ staff in 2000.
  • Falcons special-teams coach Keith Armstrong coached with Saints assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones for the Miami Dolphins in 2007.
  • 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 wide receiver Julio Jones and offensive guard Mike Johnson won a BCS championship with Saints running back Mark Ingram at Alabama in the 2009 season.
  • Falcons offensive guard Justin Blalock and Saints tight end David Thomas won a BCS title at Texas in the 2005 season.

Stat corner: Falcons run defense coming best showing of the season

When Joe Vitt, the Saints’ interim head coach, finished serving his “Bounty Gate” suspension, he vowed to instill some balance into the offense by running the ball.

Llinebacker Sean Weatherspoon often sends out Tweets.  (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Llinebacker Sean Weatherspoon often sends out Tweets. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

In his first game back, on Oct. 28, they didn’t run well and lost to Denver. In three consecutive wins over Philadelphia, the Falcons and Oakland, they averaged 146.3 yards rushing per game.

Last week against San Francisco, the Saints rushed for only 59 yards on 21 carries.

“We are going to be ready for that,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “That’s one team that you can’t let run on you. If you let them run on you, and with (quarterback Drew) Brees being able to do what he can do, that just makes them more dangerous.”

The Saints take a committee approach, with Pierre Thomas (341 yards rushing), Mark Ingram (339), Darren Sproles (117) and Chris Ivory (191). The latter broke loose against the Falcons for a 56-yard touchdown when the teams met Nov. 11.

“That’s our main focus going into the game; we’ve got to stop the run,” Weatherspoon said. “When’s it’s third down, we have to be able to step up and make plays.”

The Falcons are coming off their best game of the season against the run. They held Tampa Bay and rookie sensation Doug Martin to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.

The Falcons’ run defense has given up 123.2 yards per game, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. The Saints average 91.5 yards per game, which ranks 27th.

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38 comments Add your comment

mike

November 29th, 2012
5:20 am

Adogg36

November 29th, 2012
6:59 am

WELL TODAY IS DA DAY WE PUT A DAGGER IN E’M.DEY PLAYOFF HOPE IS OFFICIALLY OVER. 13HOURS AND 20MIN.RISE BUT DON’T POP!!!!!!

Mikey

November 29th, 2012
8:32 am

As good as Drew Brees is, it was the run defense that cost them the game last time out. They have continued to improve with better tackling and Spoon’s presence will make a big difference too. The run game was struggling on offense too last match. Credit the coaches and players for continuing to advance the run game. It needs to be there by playoff time and I think we will see significant improvements this week. Better schemes, better personnel mix and better plays. The O’Line is getting back to run blocking too. I am really hoping for some domination on both sides of the ball! GO FALCONS! YOU ARE RISING UP!

shesoleo

November 29th, 2012
8:36 am

First and foremost the Falcons needs to get to Drew Sleazzy and lay the wood on him early and often Drew is more of a finess qb that likes to stand in the pocket and pick you apart, but if you put pressure on him or hit him a couple of times he becomes rattled and will throw some interceptions. Come on BIRDS LAY THE WOOD on SLEAZZY.

ed

November 29th, 2012
8:58 am

I don’t have NFL Network. Is the game televised by the local station?

Esquire

November 29th, 2012
9:02 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

vmguru

November 29th, 2012
9:34 am

ed, local Atlanta station – CW69 (Comcast channel 10) will be carrying it.

Roger

November 29th, 2012
9:48 am

New Orleans is a great city….Known for Bourbon street, lots of drunk tourists doing things they would never dream of doing in their respective cities, sex/street clubs, dive bars and pan handlers, bums and con men.
It also leads the nation in murder and manslaughter(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_cities_by_crime_rate)
Great food though!!

just sayin'

November 29th, 2012
10:16 am

so, she*…u think it’s ok for YOUR team to hit someone to knock them out of the game, huh?…typical hypocrite homer….

old falc

November 29th, 2012
11:29 am

i would like to see A. Smith with some carries also Tim Toone on kickoff return or punt return

Ray Edwards

November 29th, 2012
12:29 pm

Anyone that wants to party should come up to my private fan suite at the Georgia Dome. No shirts allowed.

eLLIott

November 29th, 2012
1:34 pm

warfalcon

November 29th, 2012
1:39 pm

RUN FALCONS RUN,LETS GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hi boyz and girlz its me bukweet starrring as D Led

November 29th, 2012
2:12 pm

Big Brother 35- Falcons 27

Fetus Breath

November 29th, 2012
2:25 pm

bullrusher1

November 29th, 2012
2:53 pm

‘Spoon is back, Julio’s healthy, the Dome is ready, and less than 6 hours to kickoff. Let’s get it done. RISE UP!

Sad faces on Marta tonight...

November 29th, 2012
2:54 pm

Birds need to study Niner game film…because Harbaugh’s boys will stomp the Filthy Fulton County Pigeons in the playoffs! IF…they ( birds) make it that far.

Michael M.

November 29th, 2012
5:19 pm

X-FACTOR ? ? ? ……………….Drew Sleeze will be sitting on his EX in tonights football game on both the field and the bench………………………………………………..

stein

November 29th, 2012
5:23 pm

Lol..so much watching all these dirty birds fans getting excited to RISE UP and FALL in hot oil pan to get DEEp Fried.

LOL at The Aints

November 29th, 2012
5:41 pm

Drew Sleeze is Goin Down!! These Birds are ticked off!,,,,LOL

LOL at The Aints

November 29th, 2012
5:41 pm

Drew Sleeze is Goin Down!! These Birds are ticked off!,,,,LOL

outonleave

November 29th, 2012
5:59 pm

vmguru, if you’re right, you just made my night! I did not want to have to go out to a bar to watch this game, but I ain’t payin’ $10 a month for the NFL channel that really offers nothing worthwhile but Thursday Night Football. That’s extortion in my book.

Michael M.

November 29th, 2012
6:10 pm

Atlanta – 41 Caints ‘ just eggs “…………………………………………..you knew I had to throw that out the back door to those doghead aint fans…………………………..hehehehehe

LOL at The Aints

November 29th, 2012
6:46 pm

Carefull Michael, You dont want to Egg them on LOL!!

trey

November 29th, 2012
7:13 pm

dirty bird goina get deep fried again GO NEW ORLEANS!!!!!!!!!

Mike Franklin

November 29th, 2012
7:14 pm

The Wall Street Journal is calling the Falcons the ‘trashiest’ team in the league. They say we practice our guys against garbage cans… and have a photoshop pic of Tony G diving on one:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324205404578147422251902666.html

Nick R.

November 29th, 2012
7:19 pm

We will win this game by a touchdown. RISE UP.

Get Back Jojo

November 29th, 2012
7:22 pm

Stop the run. That means don’t dance with the runner, throw him to the ground hard.

Lets make-up for GIVING the last game to them

GO FALCONS!!!

Southern Dawg

November 29th, 2012
7:31 pm

Falcons – 27 ‘Aints – 17

patrick

November 29th, 2012
7:35 pm

i bet this dude that the birds are going to win so well see what happens

Scrachin my head

November 29th, 2012
7:36 pm

Wasn’t anythind uther than a dirty burd fly over at the ATLport droppin some early scores…did I see a dirty interacion that may of been alittle breezy; with his late snap with the center, during the 49er game. Just sayin

i

fan of the abnormal

November 29th, 2012
7:37 pm

If you have Verizon just download NFL Network 4 FREE and take the enhanced option for only $5 a month…you will see every Monday Night, Sunday Night, & Thursday Night NFL game for only FIVE DOLLARS a Month & IM sure Iphone can downlad NFL Network too….its a free APP that every footbal fan should have!!!! Birds 24 Aints 17

Rose Broussard

November 29th, 2012
8:03 pm

I am about n2 hrs from where the aints play….& I HATE them…Please Falcons RISE UP!! & BEAT DEM Aints!!

TCCB

November 29th, 2012
8:05 pm

Where is Choke?

Sad faces on Marta tonight...

November 29th, 2012
8:16 pm

Esquire and Michael M, are 2 of the biggest most delusional homers ever to grace the AJC blogs.

kingdaddy

November 29th, 2012
8:21 pm

Gotta get to Brees or they will beat us again. Our secondary is to thin, we have to get pressure from front, something we haven’t done yet…

kingdaddy

November 29th, 2012
8:28 pm

D Led.
Why do we have a mental-block with NO? No reason we shouldn’t be more optimistic. Commentators give Falcons little respect…

kingdaddy

November 29th, 2012
8:35 pm

TD TURNER…NOTHING WRONG WITH HIM…