The start of the second season against Mike Smith and a very, very good Atlanta football team that we have been preparing for – a team that's 10th in the league on offense, 12th in the league on defense, outstanding special teams – number one punt coverage team in the league. A very fast, very physical football team – plays in a very good division, a 10-6 team that certainly, offensively, has many, many outstanding players. They run the ball very well with a 1300-yard runner in Michael Turner. Two or three exceptional receivers and Gonzalez at tight end, Rodgers as a changeup back. So a very, very good and talented team. Of course Matt Ryan, the quarterback, an outstanding young player in his own right. Defensively, very physical. Abraham can run around. A lot of speed up front. A lot of speed at the linebacker corps. Outstanding corners. Moore, a very physical safety that will come down and hit you. As I said, an outstanding special teams outfit with Eric Weems being an outstanding punt returner, kick returner, gunner, kickoff coverage individual, very highly ranked in their special teams tackles – Akeem Dent being their top special teams tackler, number 52. They're a very good football team. We're excited. We're very, very fortunate and glad to be playing them at home here. Our fans did an outstanding job last week. The 12th man really came through in a big fashion for us and I'm encouraging them to do so again this weekend because it was really very impressive and our players appreciated the effort that the fans put forth. It's exciting again and we're looking forward to this.
Q: The Falcons lost their fullback and had trouble with their running game. Last week it looked like they got it back.
A: I'm having a hard time finding out that they had trouble with their running game.
Q: But they were having trouble.
A: Yeah. They were, but they used the tight ends and they used the fullback to try to come up with a suitable way to attack and as of last weekend, they certainly found a way.
Q: Is the weather forecast something you will pay close attention to and study?
A: It will impact on game day if it does hold true. Do we study it? Well, we talk about it probably every 20 minutes, but we're planning, we're going, we're in the north. You know it's going to happen. We've been really blessed with the weather that we've had. Sometimes these storms that they're predicting move in early, sometimes late. So we'll wait until the hour, probably, prior to. We talked about it last Saturday night as if it was going to be a really miserable day as well and the wind wasn't the factor that it was predicted to be.
Q: The way your team throws the ball, do you still think you're a good bad-weather team?
A: I think we're going to have to be. But I think we will be. Hopefully we will run the ball better than we did last weekend, for example. Consistency is the word. I'm not trying to say good, bad or indifferent. But we've had four or five games in a row where we've rushed the ball for over 100 yards. I'll look for that to happen again. And Eli has in the past thrown the ball very, very well despite any kind of weather. That's always been an amazing thing to me. Whatever the weather is, the hearts are in the right place. We'll take care of whatever weather presents itself.
Q: The playoff formula used to be defense and run the ball. Has it changed? Do you think a team can ride a hot quarterback to the Super Bowl?
A: Well, it definitely has, it's evidence, it's fact. But the other ingredients are most important as well. You take last year's champion, they played exceptional defense. They were an outstanding, physical defensive football team, which you have to have. The encouraging thing about our situation is the way that our defense is playing right now and the fact that we've been able to do some things – stop the run, attack the quarterback, that kind of thing. So that would be the suitable formula.
Q: If Eli has to carry the team, is he up for that challenge?
A: Without a doubt he's up to that challenge or any challenge.
Q: Is your team peaking?
A: I think we played a couple of games in a row where we played well. I think we can play better. I think we've come closer as all three phases have come closer to playing better together and complimenting one another and realizing how the other is playing and how that affects the other phases of the game. But we're getting there. I think these two games have given us momentum, have given us confidence. Hopefully we'll just continue to improve.
Q: What has the Atlanta offensive line done to handle the pass rush?
A: Well, they played better. They're running the ball better. The quarterback's getting the ball out of his hands better. They only [allowed] 26 sacks on the entire season so they're doing some things very well. They have the ability, as that group has done in that division, to block things up. They'll run one and two receiver routes and try to catch you by surprise with a deep ball. They'll do the same thing over the ball – what we call rally. [Ryan] is over the ball a lot, changing the play and getting the team to the line of scrimmage and just going. So that helps, too.
Q: Tuck called the Falcons' offensive line 'Dirtbags.'
A: I have no idea what that's all about. I'm not even going to comment on that one. I'm not going there.
Q: What has allowed the defense to come together now? Some players have suggested that it's because the defense has been simplified.
A: We have more people involved. I don't know that it has anything to do with simplicity. It has a lot to do with the kind of belief that I think they have in themselves and what they're trying to prove and their confidence level rising and their situational defense being much better.
Q: You're smirking, do you not believe in that the coaches simplified things?
A: I'm glad they feel that way. If that's what it takes for us to feel good, that's fine. With the backend and the frontend, all of those things meshing together – whatever you want to call it – there's enough there to win with. Let's put it that way. And there are enough pressures there and enough different personnel combinations there to win with. When you know exactly what you're doing and you can play instinctively and hard and fast, it is simple.
Q: Did your team find a toughness?
A: That's the goal. That's always the goal. No toughness, no championship. There's no question about that one. Why is it important? Because you do have to establish that. You do have to be in position to be able to challenge and be great this week. You always start with stopping the run. You certainly have to start with stopping the run against this team. Michael Turner and that running game of theirs has to be a great challenge, but nevertheless that's what has to happen.
Q: Your tight end hurdling a defender and your wide receiver blocking to the whistle – would we have seen that earlier in the season?
A: To some extent you've seen it. The hurdling over people is no signal. That's just a guy studying tape and knowing that a guy is coming very low. In order to clear that, he has to do something to advance. So you saw that on a couple of occasions. But the blocking downfield, if you don't have all 11 engaged you're not going to get out of the play what you want. That just shows a belief in knowing how important it is for those wide receivers to be blockers as well. When you watch the Atlanta team you will see their receivers come down and block the safeties quite consistently.Q: The impact of Cruz this year?
A: He's had an incredible impact. He's made plays, just take the last two weeks. The plays that have gotten things going have come from a pass from Eli to Victor Cruz and the run after the catch aspect of it has been… Last week's play was third-and-one.
Q: Will Ballard practice today?
A: He'll practice. He's going to try. Going to go through individuals and then see where he is and then see if we can push him further.
Q: What made you take a positive approach with your team after the Washington game?
A: Because I know the team. I know the people.
Q: Some coaches would have tried to get their guys angry, but you took the different approach.
A: Obviously I felt that way, yeah. It's not the first time I've done it that way.
Q: Do you expect shootout type games in the playoffs?
A: I think you look at the artistry, if you will, of the quarterbacks and the way that they performed this year. I think that makes a statement about why you've seen such performances. I can't speak for everybody else, but I can't see why that would change.
Q: Describe your communication journey with Antrel Rolle.
A:* *We've had a lot of talks throughout the course of time he's been here. Most of them have been positive. Even if I was trying to point something out, I would try to do it in a way that made him understand it and see it. I think it's just being together for a while. I think that has as much to do with it as anything else. I think our communication, not only one-on-one, but as we talked in terms of what we present to the team I think has affected a lot of those guys. Winning will also help. The journey has been along those lines.
Q: Did you know that he was going to say, 'We need guys to practice'?
A: I don't think so because wasn't it postgame? I didn't think that was coming.
Q: Was there an impact of his words?
A: Oh yeah. There was some impact. It just brought it out. It just pointed out that we need all hands on deck. Everybody's got to go with this thing. Whether or not that had anything or what we presented in (the team meeting) or how the other players felt. I asked for more positive peer pressure from the players.
Q: Does Atlanta look like a dome-team?
A: We've done a little bit of studying that. The difference between outside and inside is not that different this year.
Q: Wayne Weaver said that his biggest regret was not keeping you. Were you aware of this and what's your reaction?
A: I was aware of it, but I don't have any reaction. We're playing the Atlanta Falcons.
Q: Were you guys in playoff mode the past few weeks and does that make this team battle-tested?
A: Yep, it certainly does. We've had our backs to the wall and had to perform or we wouldn't be here. I think it's a good thing. We're battle tested in many ways.
Q: Practice status of the guys on the injury report? A: Osi will practice. Herzlich is going to come out and see where he is, probably will get him to do some things. [Ahmad] will be out there. Whether or not we'll push him to do anything today or not, I don't know. [Nicks and Manningham will] be out there. [Da'Rel Scott will] be out there.
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