Atlanta Falcons Conference Calls

STEELERS VS. FALCONSSUNDAY, SEPT. 12KICKOFF - 1 P.M.ATLANTA FALCONS CONFERENCE CALLSHEAD COACH MIKE SMITH

Can you talk about going against Dennis Dixon, making his second NFL start?

We have had an opportunity to watch Dennis is preseason and of course he had his one start last year and I think he did an outstanding job in that game against Baltimore.  Dennis creates issues with the skill set he has as a quarterback in terms of his athleticism. I think that is something that we are going to have to make sure we are on top of our game because he is very athletic.  He throws the ball well but he can make plays with his feet as well and it will be very important for us to have a good plan to contain the quarterback, keep him in the pocket and not let him create explosive plays when the integrity of the play breaks down.  I think that is probably one of the biggest things that we are going to have to do.

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Is it more of a plan with a guys like Dixon or are you just making sure you are on your game when he does break the pocket?

I think it is no different.  Dennis was drafted to be a quarterback in this league.  I think he has a very good skill set.  He went in the fifth round and he is a guy that I know Coach Tomlin and his staff are very high on.  He is going into this third year and he will be able to run the offense.  I think the Pittsburgh offense is the Pittsburgh's offense.  It is very systematic.  It has been that way for a long time.  We have to prepare for the scheme and system and then make sure we make the proper adjustments based on who is playing.  I think it is going to be important for us to play very sound defense to contain all of the weapons that they have.

When you were in Jacksonville you went up against a young Ben Roethlisberger.  He had a lot of movement back then and how different would it be preparing for Dixon than a young Roethlisberger?

In terms of pre-planning you are doing the same things in making sure you have good lane integrity and keeping the quarterback in the pocket.  I think the difference between the two guys you are talking about is that Ben was a lot bigger in stature.  He wasn't necessarily going to go the long distance runs like Dennis does.  Dennis is capable, if he gets into the secondary, he can run away from linebackers and defensive backs.  In terms of game planning, when you have a quarterback who has the ability to tuck the ball down and run, you have to prepare.  The skill sets are just a little different between those two guys.

How much time did Dunta Robinson miss for you guys here in the preseason and how close to 100% do you expect him to be Sunday?

We anticipate him to be 100%.  He has been practicing with us and we just made the decision to pull him out of the last two preseason games.  He was ready to go and we anticipate him to be 100%.  He has been practicing the last 14 days without any limitations.

How quickly did Matt (Ryan) grasp the play book down there? Any reservations?

No, I think Matt has progressed well for his first two years. I think it takes a couple of cycles for a quarterback to see all you can see in the league in terms of what defensive coordinators are going to present.  We are preparing, in my mind, for one of the best coordinators who has ever coordinated in this league, Coach LeBeau.  What he does with his defense scheme-wise, they are always very sound and very physical.  For Matt and for our offensive unit, it is going to be a big challenge for us because year in and year out Pittsburgh is always going to present a very strong defense.

When Matt was starting, how long before were you able to listen to his suggestions?

We really thought that the skill set that Matt had physically and mentally when we were doing our due diligence in drafting him indicated that he was going to grasp our system very very quickly.  We believe here and I believe that you have to be a very communicative organization and it is really about interaction between players and players and players and coaches.  It was evident early on that Matt could bring things to the table in our game planning just like a number of players on our team do.  We really want them to be able to be a part of the process of us putting a game plan together.  I think when you do that everybody feels like they have ownership of it.

Looked like you guys threw a lot more last year compared to two years ago.  What do you want your offensive identity to be in 2010?

From the very beginning we said the two things that we want to be able to do.  Run the football and stop the run.  I know that is a cliché that you hear from a majority of head coaches but I really believe that if you are able to run the football you are able to control the game and it is going to allow you to open up other opportunities. I think one of the other things we didn't do last year, we didn't run it affectively.  We had some injuries, but injuries are part of this league week in and week out and we have to make sure we are able to run the ball efficiently and then it creates issues with the rest of our offense in terms of how they are going to try to stop the run and it will open up things in the perimeter or down the middle of the field.

How does Michael Turner look?

Michael had a season last year unfortunately where he was banged up and missed eight games for us.  He has really worked extremely hard in the offseason being in the building almost every day.  He looks leaner.  He is lighter than what he started the season at last year.  I know that Michael is such a passionate guy about playing the game.  He doesn't want to be known as the guy who was a one year flash so he has worked extremely hard this offseason to get back from that ankle injury and we have seen nothing that says he won't be ready for the long haul this year.

How does it affect your defense not having (Jonathan) Babineaux for a game?

Jonathan has been a centerpiece for us in our rotation on the defensive line.  We like to rotate our players in and out but of all the defensive lineman, he had the most reps last year.  But we have some guys that know that this is their opportunity to step up and be a productive player.  I tell the guys all of the time that the difference between the number one spot and the number 53rd spot on our roster is only a couple of inches and one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, and we have a couple of guys who are going to get an opportunity to play significant snaps this week.

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Is Harry Douglas back to full strength?

We certainly missed Harry.  He came in from the very beginning and he was one of the five guys from our first draft class that started from day one.  He was our slot receiver and punt returner.  He did a great job in the offseason in terms of his rehabilitation.  He played in the second and third preseason game without any limitations, we held him out in the final preseason game, so we anticipate that he is one plus year from that injury.  We anticipate that he is going to be back to where he was in year one and we certainly hope that as he gets through the season and sees some more looks he is going to even be more productive.

How fast has your top draft pick (Sean) Weatherspoon picked things up?

Sean has been in a crash course with Coach VanGorder and Coach Pires. Originally we worked him through OTA's and mini camps teaching him both outside linebackers and our scheme and give him as much knowledge as possible. He settled in here at training camp and has been playing our Sam linebacker all through training camp and started the first game at will and played the last three games at Sam-backer. He is going through what all rookies go through. He needs to see it out there live in game and learn from it because there are so many things that these young guys go through and have to experience on the field before they really get it.

QUARTERBACK MATT RYAN

What do you make of Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu being healthy as opposed to the defense without them last season?

When you watched some of the tape from those guys last year they played effectively even without those guys. And when you get players of that caliber back they're going to be very good. We've seen some of them in the preseason; they played a good amount in the third game. They're going to be very good. And that's the way we're preparing. We're preparing to go up there and have a strong test from them and expect it to be a tough, physical matchup.

Does the Steelers' 3-4 defense compare to any other teams that you have faced?

They're unique in what they do.  They do some things differently but that's every team. Every team has their own identity. Pittsburgh certainly has their own identity on defense. I think what makes it different is the caliber of their players. They have guys like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, really good football players, sound, physical football players across the board. That's probably the biggest difference between them and some other teams.

How does Troy Polamalu's play make things tougher for you?

He certainly makes it difficult on a quarterback. He does a great job disguising things. He times up snaps very well not only when he's blitzing but when he's in coverage. So that's something that you have to address that you have to be aware of. And we're going to try and key and see where he's at.

You're 2-and-0 in season openers. What do you do to try to get off to such a good start?

You have a bit of extra time to prepare, which certainly always helps especially when you're going against a tough defense and a defense that does a lot like Pittsburgh. That said we've come out as a team and played well in the openers the past two years. That has no bearing on what is going to happen this year. The most important thing is to make sure we do everything we can during the week to give us a chance to play well on Sunday.

When you were a rookie starter did they condense the play book or limit things you could do?

We did a lot my rookie year for sure. I don't want to say it was condensed. We did some things well my rookie year. We changed some things my second year and did some different things. But going into year three we learned from those previous two seasons, and we have a good feel of what we can do. There's certainly some different things we do now, year three as compared to year one.

How difficult do you think it would be to start at center as a rookie?

There's no easy spot to transition to regardless of what position it is. At center, there is a lot asked of centers in this league. Our center, we have a veteran guy in Todd McClure, who makes a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage. There's no easy position to transition to, and some of the responsibilities add to that difficulty.

What problems do your receivers pose for DBs?

We've got some good, talented guys. Roddy White has been to the Pro Bowl the last two years. He's a physical guy, makes plays on the ball when it's in the air and he's a weapon for us. Tony Gonzalez, his track record speaks for itself. He's been hugely successful for us the past year and I think he will help us this year. We got guys like Harry Douglas who are quick in the slot, and he does some really good things for us. I feel like we got some talented, big guys like Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran who can catch the ball in traffic because of their height and size. I really feel good about our weapons. We're confident and we hope we can play well.

What kind of expectations do you guys have on yourselves?

We certainly don't pay attention to expectations outside our building. We set the standard for ourselves and we feel like it's a high standard. We feel confident in our team. But expectations mean nothing. You have to go out there on the field and take care of business. We're really trying to focus on that this year better than we have in the past. I think it's a good thing for our football team.

Is it better for a quarterback to start as a rookie or to learn from a veteran guy and ease into it?

To be honest I can't speak on both sides of that. For me, the only way I know it is to have gone out there and played from the start. I think there are good things from both sides, good things you can learn from being in the system for a while, going out there two or three years into the system and playing. But at the same time I feel like I've learned a lot in the first two years so it's tough for me to say.

Can you speak of what is going through Dennis Dixon's mind as he prepares to start?

I think each individual is different, different personalities, guys think about different things leading up to a game. Me personally I was trying to do all I could to prepare to play and trying to just stay focused on doing my job and trying not to do too much. To be honest with you it really hasn't changed from year one to year three. I'm trying to stay focused on my job, making checks at the line of scrimmage, playing well, reading coverage, reading fronts and I am sure he is probably going through the same thing right now.

What have you done to limit the number of sacks you take?

I think number one is our protection; our guys up front have done a great job. Our offensive line has protected really well the past two seasons. And hopefully that is something we can do again this year. I think it's a team effort. I think our wide receivers understanding blitzes and sight adjusting routes when they need to, all those things play a factor in keeping sack totals low. I think that's the two biggest contributing factors to that.

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