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Ryan drawing early praise
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks downfield to pass against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday in Oakland, Calif. Atlanta defeated Oakland 24-0. - photo by Ben Margot


1 p.m. FOX (WAGA-5)

Opening line: Even.

Record vs. spread:  New Orleans 5-3, Atlanta 5-3.

Series record: Falcons lead 43-34.

Last meeting: Saints 34, Falcons 14, Dec. 10, 2007.

Last week: Saints had bye week, beat Chargers 37-32 in Week 8; Falcons beat Raiders 24-0.

Saints offense: Overall (1), Rush (29), Pass (1)

Saints defense: Overall (24), Rush (18), Pass (25)

Falcons offense: Overall (7), Rush (1), Pass (22)

Falcons defense: Overall (16), Rush (22), Pass (16)

Streaks, stats, notes:  The Saints have a four-game winning streak in series, sweeping the Falcons in 2006 and 2007. The Falcons won both games in 2005. ... The Saints, who beat San Diego in London, will be looking for their first two-game winning streak of season. ... The game matches Atlanta’s top-rated rushing attack against New Orleans’ top-rated passing attack. ... Even though the Falcons are a run-first offense and the Saints have the league’s most prolific passing attack, the leading receiver entering game is Atlanta WR Roddy White, who has 48 catches for 733 yards and five TDs. RB Reggie Bush leads the Saints with 42 catches. ... RB Michael Turner has four games with more than 100 yards rushing this season, including 139 yards against Oakland last week.

ATLANTA — Matt Ryan has enjoyed such a strong start to his rookie season, he’s drawing comparisons from his coach to one of the league’s top quarterbacks, Drew Brees.

That comparison will be tested today when Brees, the NFL’s leading in yards passing, leads the New Orleans Saints against Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

Ryan, this year’s No. 3 overall draft pick, has started every game for the surprising Falcons (5-3).
He’s added surprising stability to a quarterback position left in chaos last season following Michael Vick’s guilty plea and prison sentence on dogfighting charges.

Ryan ranks a modest 19th with 1,661 yards passing, but he’s thrown only five interceptions.

Ryan passed for two touchdowns with no interceptions in last week’s dominating 24-0 win at Oakland, when the Falcons had a 30-3 advantage in first downs.

The rookie completed 17 of 22 passes for 220 yards against the Raiders and led the Falcons to touchdowns on their first three possessions.

“Matt has an outstanding work ethic, has all the attributes that you’re looking for,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “He’s a big, strong guy and he has a sense of getting the ball out of his hands, very similar to (Brees).”

Brees has 2,563 yards passing, completing 60 percent of his throws, and has 15 touchdown passes.
Ryan’s quick transition from college to the NFL has helped the Falcons remain in contention in the tough NFC South, where the Saints (4-4) are in last place.

“He’s been nothing but outstanding,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “For a young player to come in and really contribute right away, I wish I could say it’s been nice to see, because it’s in our division.”

Even Ryan mentioned Brees when asked this week if he hopes his skills compare with any another quarterback in the league.

“I think that I’ve never tried to play exactly like someone,” Ryan said. “I think that when you watch tape, you look at players that do things very well. When we watch tape of the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees has done a great job down there this year. He’s made as good decisions as anybody I’ve seen on tape.”

The Falcons lead the league in rushing, as Michael Turner already has four 100-yard games.

Ryan often gives credit to Turner when asked about his early success.

Turner, who signed with the Falcons from San Diego, has 794 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

Jerious Norwood has added 348 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

“I think not just for Matt Ryan, but for any quarterback, when you’re able to run the football and force teams to add a defender to the front ... it’s going to open up opportunities for the passing game, where now there aren’t going to be opportunities to roll to a certain receiver or play double coverage,” Smith said.

“I think when you’re able to run the ball efficiently, now you’re able to take the opportunities to take shots down the field, because you’re going to get a lot of one-on-one opportunities.”

Brees has been the constant on offense as the Saints have suffered injuries to running back Reggie Bush (knee surgery), receivers Marques Colston (thumb), and David Patten (groin) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia).

“I feel like no matter who’s been in there — we’ve had a lot of turnover on certain positions with a lot of guys mixing in — guys have been able to step in and do the job,” Brees said.

Lance Moore has 38 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns, helping keep the Saints’ passing game intact.

Devery Henderson has only 18 receptions but leads the team with 499 yards receiving, including three for touchdowns.

Shockey is expected to play this week.

Bush ran Wednesday for the first time since his surgery two weeks ago, but he has only a slim hope of playing against the Falcons.

Deuce McAllister, who had 18 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown and four catches for 30 yards against the Chargers, likely will lead the Saints’ running game.

Brees has been sacked only seven times. But Falcons defensive end John Abraham already has 10 sacks, including three against the Raiders.

Abraham says the combination of the Saints’ strong pass blocking and Brees’ quick release will make it difficult to add to his sacks total.

“It’s going to be tough,” Abraham said. “They’re going to play smart. I know they’re going to put in a lot of protection and try to look out for (Brees). He’s smart. He knows how to play the game. He realizes when pressure is coming and he does a good job of getting rid of the ball.”

The Saints suffered a key injury on defense in their 37-32 win over the Chargers in London on Oct. 26.
Defensive end Charles Grant tore his triceps and was placed on injured reserve this week.

The Falcons’ strong start has included wins over three teams — Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland — who are a combined 3-21.

The schedule grows more difficult in the second half of the season, including two games against the Saints, who have four straight wins in the rivalry.

The Falcons already have two road wins and their playoff hopes also were boosted by a last-minute home victory over Chicago.

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