As effective as the New Orleans Saints defense has been for much of the season, it couldn't adversely affect Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan enough in the first meeting between the teams this season, a 27-25 Falcons victory on Nov. 7 at the Caesars Superdome.
On Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, when the Saints (8-8) take on the Falcons (7-9) in the regular-season finale, New Orleans definitely will have to ruffle Ryan in order to secure the victory that could vault it into the playoffs.
If the Saints win and San Francisco loses its road game to the Rams, the Saints would earn the No. 7 seed in the NFC.
When Atlanta was able to secure its back-and-forth victory over the Saints in New Orleans, it largely was attributable to Ryan's effectiveness. The Saints took away the run and limited Atlanta to 34 rushing yards on 25 carries, but Ryan responded with his most efficient game of the season, completing 23 of 30 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception.
New Orleans sacked him twice, but Ryan's rhythm largely remained intact. The Saints are hoping to apply more consistent pressure Sunday.
"We always know Matt Ryan's had one of the quickest releases in the game," said defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has 7.5 sacks in the last three games. Jordan has 22 career sacks against Atlanta, all against Ryan, the most one player has compiled against another in NFL history.
"It can be frustrating not being able to get to him because you know his timing's that much faster (than ours)," Jordan said. "Last time we played him, he was in his bag. You know, coming up, we know we have to get there that much faster. Whatever it takes, being one step faster, that's what we have to do."
New Orleans hasn't had much of a problem being a step or two faster the last four games. While winning three of the four, the Saints have totaled 17 sacks, 40 percent of their season total (43).
But getting to Ryan is made more difficult because of the intent to get the ball out of his hand quickly.
"We felt like we mixed it up pretty good defensively," Coach Sean Payton said this week. "We let one (pass) get over our head. I think we'll have a good idea.
"The offense changed obviously with the coaching staff change and we felt like, and we still do when you watch it, the rhythm and timing of the passing game is a half count to a full count quicker, as far as his routes and where he's going with the football. And that's just an offensive change."
Plus, Ryan still has the ability to scramble. He also ran for a touchdown in the first game.
"He's always been able to flush from the pocket," Payton said. "If you go way back he's been one of those guys that climbs heavy off of those naked boots and gets the ball downfield and so a lot of it's dependent on who he's had running the offense for him. But he'll climb up and then peel off for 10 yards on third down easily, he's a good athlete."
The mission, as always, is to take away that, and more.
"We have been seeing that, we've seen them trying to not hold the ball and get it out quicker," said linebacker Kwon Alexander, who has 2.5 sacks in the last three games. "We watched all that and we're going to try to get pressure on him, and that's the main goal is to try to get pressure on him and make big plays and that's what we're going to do."