Good morning! The Cover 9@9 is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, we published 9 items at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.
1. WHY NOT SIT RYAN? Falcons coach Dan Quinn doesn’t plan to sit players in the regular season finale. With the rash of quarterback injuries, perhaps he should consider sitting Matt Ryan and let Matt Schaub win the Saints’ game.
Ryan, the most valuable player candidate, is the one player the Falcons can’t lose.
He's aware of the injuries suffered by Oakland's Derek Carr and Tennessee's Marcus Mariota last week.
“That’s disappointing," Ryan said on Tuesday during his weekly radio show on 680 The Fan. "You put in so much work, but injuries are disappointing regardless of the time of the year. You don’t like to see those happen especially this late in the year. It’s part of the game. It’s part of the deal. I just feel bad for those guys.”
Back in 2012, Falcons coach Mike Smith had the starters play in a meaningless regular-season finale and defensive end John Abraham suffered a high ankle sprain. He did nothing in the playoffs against Seattle and San Francisco and possibly cost the franchise a trip to its second Super Bowl.
2. MVP CHATTER. Ryan is a strong candidate for the league’s most valuable player award.
“It’s obviously nice to be mentioned in the mix because it’s something that’s a special award, a really nice recognition, but at the end of the day it’s about winning games,” Ryan said on Tuesday during his weekly radio spot on 680 The Fan. “That’s where my mindset has been all year. It’s about trying to do the best that I can week-in and week-out. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of that this year.”
Ryan's main competition for the award are New England's Tom Brady, Oakland's Derek Carr, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and Arizona running back David Johnson.
“This time of year is when MVP conversations begin," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I think it is also important to recognize when those conversations begin, there are a bunch of people involved that are playing really well. I think Matt would be the first to tell you how many guys on our team are playing really well. He’s kind of the conduit of that.
“Any MVP talk and I know it’s an individual award, generally there are a lot of people that are playing really well for that to happen.”
Ryan completed 346 of 498 passes for 4,613 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 115.5 leads the league.
Among quarterbacks who average 9-plus yards per passing attempt, Ryan’s 69.5 seasonal completion percentage is third all-time behind Slingin’ Sammy Baugh (1945) and Joe Montana (1989).
Ryan has thrown touchdown passes to 13 players this season, the most in a single season in NFL history. Backup tight ends Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea both caught career-first touchdown passes against the Panthers.
A nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the NFL will vote on the award. The ballots were sent out on Dec. 16 and are due back on Jan. 4 and will not be accepted before Jan. 2.
The list of the voters is released when the awards are announced on Feb. 4 at NFL Honors program the night before Super Bowl LI.
3. SHAHANAN PLAN. The NFL has rules for teams interviewing coaches in the playoffs. Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows the rules well. He was interviewed during the "open" period back in 2014 when he landed the Falcons head coaching post. The team elected to wait for him to finish his duties with as Seattle's defensive coordinator.
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who has the league's top-scoring offense, is set-up to be a hot head coaching candidate. Quinn and Shanahan have talked about the offensive coordinator interviewing for a head coaching vacancy in the coming weeks. "It's not something we talk regularly about, but certainly something that we've discussed," Quinn said.
Sounds like they have a plan.
4. INJURY REPORT: The Falcons are hoping to get tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (concussion) back from injury. Also, left guard Andy Levitire, who didn’t finish the Carolina game with a hip injury, is expected back. All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones (toe) and cornerback Jalen Collins (knee) returned from injury against the Carolina.
5. REVIEW OF GAME ONE: The Falcons defeated the Saints 45-32 on Sept. 26, 2016 on Monday Night football. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones sealed the victory with a 90-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
Running back Devonta Freeman ran for a season-high 152 yards on 14 carries as the Falcons amassed 217 yards rushing. He also led the Falcons with five receptions for 55 yards receiving.
6. COVER-TWO BEATER FOR $5,000 ALEX: Quinn offered up a scenario of how closely the quarterbacks work together and drill each other to get ready for games.
“You see it each week with Matt Schaub to Matt Ryan at the end of each week he’s like Alex Trebek with all of the quizzes and tests that he fires at him," Quinn said. "Those small interactions that happen, teammate-to-teammate, are really strong.”
7. SERIES RECORD: This will be the 95th meeting between the Falcons and the Saints. The Falcons lead the series, 49-45.
8. TALE OF THE TAPE: 2016 Regular Season Statistics Rankings:
9. DEPTH CHART: Here's the Falcons' official injury report for the Saints game.
(The team calls it an ‘unofficial’ depth chart. But if they are releasing it, for our purposes that makes it pretty official.)
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 15 Nick Williams, 14 Eric Weems
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 65 Chris Chester, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Tom Compton
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 19 Aldrick Robinson
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 93 Dwight Freeney
DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw
DE 94 Tyson Jackson, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Paul Worrilow, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 52 Josh Keyes
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 38 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 32 Jalen Collins, 34 Brian Poole, 30 Deji Olatoye
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman
S 22 Keanu Neal, 38 Dashon Goldson
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy
PR 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about Julio Jones’ situation for week 17, Matt Ryan’s MVP candidacy, and why it’s beneficial for the Falcons to host the Saints on Sunday.
GAME 15: Falcons 33, Panthers 16
GAME 14: Falcons 41, 49ers 13
GAME 13: Falcons 42, Rams 14
GAME 12: Chiefs 29, Falcons 28
GAME 11: Falcons 38, Cardinals 19
GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15
GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT
GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24