FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Matt Ryan cringed on Wednesday when remembering his most recent games against Arizona’s defense.
In seven seasons as the Atlanta quarterback, Ryan’s only games with more than three interceptions were his last two against the Cardinals.
”I appreciate you bringing it up,” he said with a slight smile.
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Well, it’s difficult to avoid.
Ryan threw a combined nine interceptions with only one touchdown as the Falcons somehow split the games with Arizona the last two years.
Atlanta beat Arizona in 2012 despite Ryan’s career-high five interceptions. The Cardinals beat the Falcons last year as Ryan threw four picks.
Ryan said he must learn from those tough games as Arizona visits Atlanta on Sunday in an unlikely pairing of first-place teams.
”I think probably the biggest thing is you have to be patient,” Ryan said. ”You have to understand they’re going to make some plays, they’re going to get you off-schedule at certain times, but you’ve got to take what’s there and I’ve got to do a better job than I’ve done the previous two times against them.”
Arizona will bring one of the NFL’s top cornerback tandems to Atlanta in Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. The two have combined for five interceptions.
Peterson said Wednesday the key Sunday will be to keep pressure on Ryan so the defensive backs can make more big plays.
”As a defense we just want to continue to make sure we have hands in his face at all times,” Peterson said in a telephone interview with Atlanta reporters. ”No quarterback, I don’t care how good you are, loves hands in their face or love to be hit. If we make that pocket as uncomfortable as possible, we can have another successful day on defense.”
The Falcons (4-7) lead the woeful NFC South. Arizona (9-2) leads the NFC West and has the conference’s best record, despite last week’s loss to Seattle.
Atlanta has a tiebreaker advantage with New Orleans in the NFC South but could have held first alone with a better ending to last week’s 26-24 loss to Cleveland. Coach Mike Smith on Monday took the blame for poor clock management on Atlanta’s final possession, which ended with an incomplete sideline pass from Ryan for Devin Hester on a third-and-2 play.
The loss was ugly but Ryan insists he still likes his team.
”I think it’s a tight-knit group,” he said. ”I think you learn a lot about people and what they’re all about when you go through some tough times. I think our guys have continued to battle, have continued to prepare the way you need to work each week. That only gives you a chance. It doesn’t guarantee anything on Sunday, but if you don’t do it, it guarantees you won’t play well.
”I think our guys have bought into the idea that preparation is key and we need to continue to do that moving forward. When we have the chance on the field to make plays, we’ve got to make plays.”
Ryan has 19 touchdown passes with nine interceptions this season. He completed 27 of 43 passes for 273 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Browns.
NOTES: WR Roddy White (ankle), DT Paul Soliai (personal business), CB Robert Alford (wrist) and WR Harry Douglas (foot) did not practice. Smith said Soliai also will miss Thursday’s practice. … Smith said he expects to make a decision Friday on S William Moore (shoulder), who is eligible to return from short-term IR this week. Smith wants to see how Moore’s shoulder responds to Wednesday’s session. … On Tuesday, the team signed WR Freddie Martino to the practice squad and waived WR Ryan Spadola from the practice squad.
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