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John DeShazier: Rob Ryan excited about regular-season opener against Falcons

It will be his first game with the Saints

The offensive numbers are there for all to see, sterling enough as to be impossible to ignore.

A quarterback who passed for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns, with four interceptions.

Receivers who accumulated 1,351 and 1,198 receiving yards, respectively, and a tight end who chipped in 930, and a combined 25 receiving touchdowns from the three.

Forty-four offensive touchdowns and 419 points scored.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzales form one of the most formidable quartets in the NFL. And now that running back Steven Jackson has been added to the mix – he of the 10,138 career rushing yards and eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons – Atlanta's offense appears that much more potent.

Which only seems to excite Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan that much more.

Ryan will make his regular-season debut with the Saints on Sunday, when New Orleans opens its 2013 season against Atlanta at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"I think they've got great talent, they've done an excellent job assembling players and they've won more games than probably anybody the last few years," Ryan said. "So we're going to have our hands full, but we're ready to get after it.

"They're a great challenge. They can run the ball, also – Steven Jackson is a great player. They can throw it, they can run it and we have to be at our best. And we plan on being that."

That's the confidence Saints Coach Sean Payton was expecting when he hired Rob Ryan. And it's the confidence that defensive players have displayed this offseason and preseason, as they've diligently worked to install and to master Ryan's 3-4 defense, a change from the 4-3 the Saints employed last season.

"I'm excited," Ryan said. "I think we put a lot of great work (in). There hasn't been a lot of sleeping but we don't care. It's this time of year, we love the grind of it, we love the challenge of it. Our players are excited and that's most important. And we can't wait.

"The preseason, we accomplished what we wanted to do. We got our 53 and now we're ready for it to count. But it's what you do. We love what we do and we can't wait to go."

The major wrinkle Atlanta's offense may present could come from Jackson, who replaced Michael Turner, a free agent who wasn't re-signed.

Jackson is a big back (6 feet 2, 240 pounds) who can be a punishing runner and effective receiver. He has 407 career receptions in nine seasons – 45 per season – and eight receiving touchdowns. Turner, in contrast, has 70 career catches and one receiving touchdown in nine seasons.

"I think (catching the football) would be the one redeeming quality that maybe he has over Turner," Ryan said of Jackson. "But both of them are hard runners, both of them are premier power backs. I think that would be the only difference."

The difference Ryan makes for the Saints defense – schematically, mentally, emotionally – will be on display Sunday, too, for the first time in a regular-season game.

The Saints largely were successful defensively in preseason, managing to favorably respond after rough patches. Kansas City's No. 1 offense didn't score again after a 14-play, 80-yard drive to open the game.

Houston's starters scored on a nine-play, 69-yard touchdown drive to give the Texans a 7-0 lead, but only could add three field goals the rest of the first half. That allowed the Saints to carry a 17-16 advantage into halftime.

That ability to adjust and adapt will be critical this season. The chance to orchestrate and see the plans carried out will continue to excite the defensive coordinator.

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