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Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith, Quarterback Matt Ryan Preview Sunday's Matchup

Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith and Quarterback Matt Ryan spoke with members of the New Orleans media to preview Sunday's NFC South contest at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome


Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike SmithConference Call with New Orleans MediaWednesday, November 7, 2012

What were your thoughts about losing Curtis Lofton to the Saints? How did that affect your team's defense?

"Curtis was an integral part to our success in our first four years here. The way that the league is set up, with free agency and everything, you'd like to be able to sign all of your players back but it's just not possible. Curtis had been a leader for us and had done a very good job. Unfortunately, the way that the league is set up, guys are going to change teams. I miss Curtis. Curtis is a great man. He was a big part of the success that we had in our first four years. Unfortunately now we are on the opposite sides of the sideline."

Does it hurt more that he went to the Saints instead of another team?

"No it doesn't. In terms of free agency, those are decisions that the player has to make. We have no control over that. The decisions that the player makes is what he feels is best for him and his career."

With the Saints, is he doing what you expected him to do?

"He's still a tackling machine. You see that every week. Probably 90% of the games that have been played this year, he is probably the leading tackler. That was a trait that he had here, he was a very active player on defense."

How helpful has Todd McClure been for Matt Ryan and his development? How about for you?

"Everybody talks about the quarterback- wide receiver relationship and what's often overlooked is the center- quarterback relationship because depending on how you're identifying defensive fronts, sometimes it's on the quarterback and sometimes it's on the center in different schemes. Sometimes it's on both guys and they have to be seeing it out of the same eyes. Todd has seen a lot of different fronts and a lot of different looks. Especially early on, I think he was a calming influence on Matt. Matt has played a lot of football games, he is in his fifth year, and his maturation process is probably as fast as any quarterback that has ever played."

How important is it to have veteran leadership on your team?

"When Thomas (Dimitroff) and I got together four years ago, in terms of philosophically how we wanted to build our football team, you've got to have a good mix of experienced players that could be mentors for the other players on your football team. I believe that you've got to have one in every meeting room. What I mean by that is in the offensive line room you have to have one, running back room you have to have one, defensive line room, linebacker room, you just can't one guy that is the leader of the team or the leader of the organization. You've got to have those guys that can distribute the message, weekly or daily, that needs to be distributed. We have a bunch of guys on our football team that are mentoring younger guys and teaching them how to be a pro and work at their craft. Tony Gonzalez, Todd McClure, John Abraham, Mike Peterson, Sean Weatherspoon, Matt Ryan, the list goes on and on. Even though some of those guys, chronologically, they're not old, they have a lot of games under their belt. It's really about experience."

How good would it be to send out McClure and some of the other guys out on a positive, winning note with the Super Bowl being the consummate win?

"We're all doing the same thing in the NFL. It's a week-to-week proposition and we've got some guys that are in different stages of their careers. Todd is a guy who has been around a long time and he's been the backbone since we've gotten here. He is a guy that I've enjoyed not only working with as a coach, but as a man because he has a very good grasp of life in general. He is a family man. It would mean nothing more for us to go out and have a successful year. It would be not just good for Todd, but it would be good for everybody on our football team."

Are you starting to believe that this season could be something special?

"As I just said, every season is a different season. It takes on 16 guaranteed dynamics. You've got 16 opportunities to play. We've been fortunate that we played well in the first half of the season. We are at the mid-point of the season. There is a lot of football to be played. We want to go out and try to play our best football. We don't try to put superlatives on what has happened in this game or that game. Our focus is week to week and that is a cycle that everybody goes through in the NFL. Sometimes it's a seven day cycle, sometimes it's a five day cycle, sometimes it's an eight day cycle depending on what day you're playing. If you're lucky, when you have a bye week, it's a 14 day cycle."

Do you feel that the Saints ran up the score in last season's contest in New Orleans?

"Not at all. We didn't play very well. They played extremely well that night. We've got to go out and (the) object of the game is to go out and score points when you're on offense and stop them when you're on defense."

What are your thoughts on Chris Ivory and how he has come in and performed well against the Eagles. Does that change your preparations?

"Well, it talks to me about the depth of the football team that you guys have. You've got a group of backs that are outstanding. When a guy that can't get on the field gets an opportunity to play it says a lot about the depth and the way that the team is built down there. I think he is an outstanding back. They are going to run the football by committee. I think if Darren (Sproles) doesn't play, they still have three outstanding running backs that can run the football. When you get the running game going, everyone knows that bodes well for the quarterback because it opens up opportunities to throw the ball down the field. Drew (Brees) is doing that as well as anybody right now. I'm very impressed with the numbers that he has been able to put up. (I am) super impressed with his red zone efficiency, number one in the league I think at 72% touchdown percentage when they have been in the red zone."

Does Chris Ivory change your preparations? Or do you just prepare for the running game?

"He has a little different style. I think all three of them have a different style. Chris is a very good running back. He has good speed and he creates different issues than Pierre Thomas. Even though their styles are different, they are going to run the same type of plays. It's just a matter of how they are going to have to be defended once they get out into the open. Our goal is to try to not allow that to happen. Some guys are better at running over people, some are better at running around (them). Some guys have that jump-cut and a juke and we just have to be prepared for all three of them."

What is the biggest reason you guys are 8-0 right now?

"We've played efficient football for the most part and we have been very fortunate. As you guys are probably well aware, between 55 and 60 percent of all games in the NFL are decided by eight points or less. Between 25 and 30 (percent) are decided by three points or less. We've been fortunate in some of the games to be on the winning side but things that stand out is that we've done some good things that are interactive. When I say interactive, it's between the offense, the defense, and special teams. We've done a nice job of not being penalized or having crucial penalties, that stands out. And the turnover ratio is big. When you have the ball, you have to be sure that you keep control of it and keep possession of it. Defensively, you want to try to take the ball away. We've done a nice job in that ratio of not turning it over on offense and taking it away on defense."

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt RyanConference Call with New Orleans MediaWednesday, November 7, 2012

What do you remember about Curtis Lofton when he was with you guys in Atlanta?

"He is a great player and teammate. He worked tremendously hard during his time here. I am sure he is doing the same down here. I think he is playing well this year when you watch him on tape. He is a really good teammate and leader."

What do you notice about the Saints defense when both Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma are on the field at the same time?

"It's a very good combination of linebackers. Obviously we have played against Jonathan Vilma for a long time. We know that he is one of the best linebackers in the game. I think when you add Curtis to that mix, the two of those guys together…they can tackle really well. They fly sideline to sideline. I think they are very good players."

Being the only undefeated team in the league, are you starting to feel this could be a special season for you guys?

"We are halfway through the season and I think everybody's focus is just to keep their head down, keep working hard and not worry about anything more than that. I think that is one of the reasons we have been successful in the first half of the season. It's going to be important for us to keep doing that to try and be successful in the second half."

Does this year feel any different than previous seasons?

"I think each year is different. I think each year shakes out differently and you certainly have different guys in the locker room. We have some new (assistant) coaches this year and two new coordinators. We still have a core group of guys that have been here for a long time. While things do feel a little different there are a lot of similarities as well."

Even though you guys are the only undefeated team in the NFL, you haven't received much attention from the national media. Does that bother you guys at all?

"It doesn't bother me. It's one of those things that I don't think about or worry about. I am not really concerned with it. I think one of the things I have learned during my short time in this league is that if you are concerned with other things then preparing for the next week and preparing for the next opponent then you are wasting your time and distracting yourself. It's not something I don't think about."

What's been different for you this season with your play? It seems like you are playing at a different level this year…

"Experience has a lot to do with that. I have learned a lot in my five years. I think my preparation has been better. That's one of the things that you constantly try to improve as a player in this league. I think I am at a good place right now. I feel comfortable in our offense and understanding it. Also I have good players around me - guys that are making plays. It's fun to be a part of that."

How much credit do you give new Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter for your progress?

"I think Dirk has done a great job – I really do. I think he is a smart football coach and a great teacher. He gets our guys to play hard. I have enjoyed playing for him this year."

Do you look at the Saints as a rival?

"Absolutely. Anytime you have division games there are always something extra to it. For me, it's a team I have a lot of respect for. I think they have been tough to play against for the last four seasons and have had a lot of success over the last four seasons. I enjoy it. The rivalry aspect of it is fun but it's also an organization I have a lot of respect for."

How much, if at all, have you guys talked about ending your season here in New Orleans for the Super Bowl?

"I think everybody has that in mind when you train and you prepare in the offseason but at this time of the year no. Guys are really focused week to week. We are not really worried about what is going to happen in January or February. It's about handling our business in November and this week. I think that is one of the strengths of our locker room."

Do you get a sense this season could be special with the way you guys are playing?

"Again, I think it is something we haven't been caught up in."

Is last year's Saints-Falcons game in New Orleans talked about at all with you guys? I remember it was a point of contention with how it ended for some people…

"Maybe for some guys but not for me. I understand in this league it's highly competitive and we didn't play well that night. They did. Credit goes to them. That's a different team and organization than it was this time last year and so are we. There is always enough on the table when you are playing division games."

Is the Saints-Falcons rivalry as close to a college rivalry that you have experienced in the NFL?

"I think so because there is so much history between the two teams. We have played each other for such a long time and I think that adds to it. I also think because there are so many people from Georgia and Louisiana that cross paths and live in those areas so. The fan aspect lends a lot to it as well. It's fun to be a part of that."

How much has your center Todd McClure helped you during your time in Atlanta?

"If not the most important person in my development than he is one of the top two or three. Todd is the constant professional. He is extremely well prepared – week in and week out. He carried me my first years in the league with protection calls and getting our offensive line on the same page. He has been awesome to be around and learn from. He is one of the leaders on our football team."

I read that he is considering making this his last year in the league. What would it mean for you to send him out on a winning note?

"It would be great for all the veteran guys. I think we have maybe two guys that are towards the end of their career in Todd and Tony Gonzalez. You would love to do it for them because they have been around and (have been) playing at such a high level for such a long time. It's also because they are great people too. They are great teammates and guys that you want to see succeed."

What does Todd mean to the younger players around him? I read a story in training camp about how he has been a great example for younger players…

"He really is. He is the ultimate example. He leads by his work ethic. I think guys see that. He is in here all the time. He does the little things every day. His consistency is amazing. It's important to him. I think young guys see that. They see that playing at a high level and having accountability with your teammates is important to him. That's one of the things that I have learned from him during my time here. It's also one of the things I most admire about him."

What makes Julio Jones so difficult to cover?

"He has an incredible skill set. He is big, strong and powerful. He has great top-end speed. He runs really good routes. His size is one of things that separate him from other people. There are some fast guys but rarely are there are guys as big and fast as he is."

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