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Falcons Team Report/Inside Slant


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Atlanta Falcons
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Ryan tests MVP title vs. Packers, Rodgers

The Pro Football Writers of America selected quarterback Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons as the NFL's 2016 Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.

Ryan is the first Falcons' player to earn PFWA's MVP award in its 43-year history and is a top candidate for the Associated Press MVP Award, which was voted on before the playoffs and will be announced during Super Bowl week.

Ryan already has been voted to the 2016 Associated Press All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl. It was his first All-Pro selection and fourth Pro Bowl honor.

Ryan has passed for a franchise-record 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions while completing a career-high 69.9 percent of his passes.

The Falcons earned the NFC's No. 2 seed are set to face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Ryan will face quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, another MVP candidate, who has led Green Bay to eight straight victories since the Pack was 4-6.

"I don't specifically have to go out on the field and defend Aaron (Rodgers) which is a good thing for us," Ryan said. "It's fun. I've played against him a number of times and I've gotten to know him throughout the years. He's a good friend and I respect him so much because he's such a great competitor."

Rodgers knocked Ryan and the Falcons out of the playoffs as the No. 6 seed back in Jan. 2011 with a 48-21 pasting. The Falcons took a switchblade to a gunfight and couldn't keep up in what turned out to be a shootout.

"Regardless of the situation, he goes out there, competes hard and plays really well week in and week out," Ryan said. "He's had an unbelievable year.

"For me, I think once we get into it it's about trying to do the best we can against their defense and focusing on how well we can play. At the end of the day, that's where my focus will be at on Sunday."

Ryan has studied Rodgers' ability to make plays out of the pocket.

"He makes a lot of really good plays and he's not just been doing it last week," Ryan said. "He's been doing it for his entire career. He's a great player. There is no question about it and has made some great plays throughout his career."

Ryan carries the burden of having not taken his team to the Super Bowl. He's not sure if that will be required to be considered in Rodgers' class.

"I don't know," Ryan said. "It's not really for me to decide. I don't think about it all that much. I think one thing I've learned throughout my career is that if you sit there and you're worrying about all these things that don't make a difference for this week, your focus is not where it should be.

"Would it be nice to do that and all those things that you mentioned? Absolutely, but it's not going to help us Sunday. At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is trying to focus all of my energy and my mental preparation toward what's going to have us play our best Sunday.

"I don't think about those things all that often and certainly not this time of the year."

 

Notes, Quotes

  Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones did not practice Wednesday because of a lingering foot injury.

"We will get him more work as the week goes on," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Quinn said earlier in the week that there is no doubt Jones will play against the Packers.

Jones has dealt with foot/toe issues for more than a month. He didn't finish the divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday after he was in and out of the game several times.

Jones played 42 of 72 offensive snaps (58 percent) against Seattle and caught six passes for 67 yards with a touchdown.

Jones played the final two games of the regular season after missing two games because of a sprained left toe, but hasn't regained his usual form.

In victories over the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, Jones didn't appear to have his usual explosiveness and periodically took himself out of the games.

When the Falcons' playoff run is completed, the San Francisco 49ers hopes to name Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their new head coach.

While it's not 100 percent certain Shanahan will say yes, owner Arthur Blank became aware of San Francisco's level of interest last week when he spoke to 49ers owner Jed York at NFL owners meetings.

"I know (Shanahan) has been interviewed and I know he has interest," Blank said. "I saw Jed York at an owners' meeting and we chatted a little bit about his candidate pool. I spoke highly of Kyle. We'll see what happens."

Blank said losing Shanahan, who with quarterback Matt Ryan has orchestrated the NFL's highest scoring offense this season, would be a significant loss, but he didn't appear overly concerned in terms of the future impact on the team.

"That's what happens in the league," Blank said. "It's the same for any organization."

Falcons safety Keanu Neal and middle linebacker Deion Jones were selected to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie team on Tuesday.

Neal, who was drafted with the 17th overall pick last year, finished second on the team with 105 tackles. He started 14 games and added a physical presence to the defense.

Jones started 13 of 15 games and led the team in tackles with 106. He also had three interceptions and 11 passes defensed.



BY THE NUMBERS: 4 This is the fourth time in team history the Falcons have advanced to the NFC championship game. The last time was in 2012 when the team took on the San Francisco 49ers. They also advanced to the NFC title game after the 2004 and 1998 seasons. The 1998 team advanced to the Super Bowl.



QUOTE TO NOTE:
"The great coaches in the league, whether it's Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin or Andy Reid or Bill Parcells, they've groomed coaches, but they found ways to bring up other people behind. If Kyle does go on to San Francisco, we certainly wish him well. He deserves an opportunity and I'm sure Dan (Quinn) is thinking if that happens, this will be my plan for that position. One of the advantages we have in this particular case is Matt has been in the system for a couple of years and he knows it real well at this point." Falcons owner Arthur Blank, on the possibility of losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Strategy & Presonnel

  The Falcons must hem in Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the previous meeting, they used Vic Beasley to spy him late in the game.

Atlanta sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson three times, marking the 16th straight game (including postseason) the Falcons have recorded a sack.

The Falcons also forced two turnovers during the game. The team has forced 16 turnovers in the last nine games 11 in the last five.

PRACTICE INJURY REPORT

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

Wednesday: WR Julio Jones (toe)

Thursday: WR Julio Jones (toe)

LIMITED

Wednesday: DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), WR Taylor Gabriel (forearm), S Keanu Neal (foot)

Thursday: DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), WR Taylor Gabriel (forearm)

FULL PARTICIPATION

Wednesday: None

Thursday: S Keanu Neal (foot)

PLAYER NOTES

WR Julio Jones (foot) did not practice on Wednesday.

DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) was limited at practice.

WR Taylor Gabriel (foot) was limited at practice.

SS Keanu Neal (foot) was limited at practice.

QB Matt Ryan was 26-of-37 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and a 125.7 passer rating against Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. Ryan has had a 120-plus passer rating in each of his last five games. In those five games he's been 115-of-157 for 1,469 yards with 14 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 131.8 passer rating.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Center Alex Mack. Mack is making his first appearance in the playoffs is the glue who holds the offensive unit together.

"It is my first chance to play in the playoffs," Mack said. "It has been pretty exciting. I'm liking it. It's fun. It's a great opportunity and definitely exciting. I think the focus really is trying to ignore that. It's another football game."

Mack didn't want to minimize his role

"I think offensive line play is really important," Mack said. "You really set your team up to have success. It's a team sport without a doubt, but we need to do our job. We need to keep the quarterback clean in the pass game and try to open up some holes and get the runner to the second level.

"It takes everybody. It's not just one person really making a play. Why we have had a lot of success is that everyone has really bought in and they are making the blocks. Receivers are blocking great on the run plays and making those small runs really big ones because they are on the second level blocking."



GAME PLAN:
Atlanta's running backs must continue to run wild. The Falcons need big games from running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, who have averaged a combined 221 rushing and receiving per game.

Freeman gained 545 yards from scrimmage in Games 14-17. He has rushed 59 times for 333 yards (5.6 average) and caught 19 passes for 212 (11.2).

Over the last four games, Coleman has carried 42 times for 249 yards (5.9) to go with 11 catches for 90 (8.2). The backs have combined for eight touchdowns.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Packers FS Morgan Burnett, who will be in charge of the banged up secondary, vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, the top MVP candidate. Burnett and his defensive backs must find a way to slow down the Falcons. Ryan was 26-of-37 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and a 125.7 passer rating against Seattle. Ryan has had a 120-plus passer rating in each of his last five games. In those five games, he's been 115-of-157 for 1,469 yards with 14 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 131.8 passer rating.

Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who has a rib injury, vs. Falcons CBs Brian Poole and Jalen Collins, who have both struggled in press coverage. Nelson helped lead the revival with Rodgers after the Packers dropped to 4-6. He was knocked out of the wild-card game and didn't pay in the divisional round. He returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis, but it's still not known if he will play. He had 97 catches for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns during the regular season.

Packers TE Jared Cook, who had the big catch against Dallas, vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal, who was selected to the PFWA all-rookie team. Cook finally got healthy and caught 30 passes for 377 yards and one touchdown. He's been a big safety valve for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Neal has played well in the box and probably will get help with Cook, who has the speed to open up the seam.





SERIES HISTORY: 32th overall meeting, fourth playoff meeting. The Packers hold a 15-13 advantage in regular season games. The Falcons became the first team to win in the playoffs at Lambeau field after the 2003 season, and the Packers, on their way to a Super Bowl title, defeated the Falcons, 48-21, on Jan. 15 2011.

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