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