Falcons Ryan hopes sixth playoff time a charm

Jan 4, 2018 - 12:11 AM FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is no stranger to the playoffs. Ryan is set to make his sixth appearance in the NFL playoffs over his 10-year career.

The Falcons (10-6) are set to face the Los Angeles Rams (11-5) at 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Ryan has been to one Super Bowl (0-1) and two NFC championship games (1-1), three divisional round games (2-1) and two wild-card round games (0-2) since coming in the NFL in 2008.

Ryan is 3-5 in the playoffs and 0-2 on the road, with wild-card playoffs losses at Arizona after the 2008 regular season and at the New York Giants after the 2011 season.

Both of those teams went on to play in the Super Bowl.

"We're all excited for this opportunity," Ryan said. "We've all worked really hard throughout the offseason and throughout the season to get here."

Ryan guided the Falcons to an 11-5 record as a rookie and earned a wild-card berth. They faced Kurt Warner, who will call this game on national radio, and the Cardinals.

The Falcons were leading the Cardinals 17-14 until Darnell Dockett power-slammed guard Harvey Dahl into Ryan and caused a fumble. Arizona's Antrel Rolle picked up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. With momentum, the Cardinals went on to win 30-24.

"It feels like it was yesterday, honestly, it goes by so quick," Ryan said. "But I think you learn from all of those experiences."

Last season, the Falcons stormed to the Super Bowl after going 11-5 and earning the second seed. They beat Seattle in the divisional round 36-20 and body-slammed Green Bay 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game.

In the Super Bowl, the Falcons went up 28-3 before their historic collapse and were defeated 34-28 in overtime by New England.

Those two defeats, the first one in 2008 and the one to New England, has shaped the way Ryan plans to get ready, for the first time as a sixth seed, for the Rams.

"I think it's trusting your process and believing in the process that we have as a team and as an organization," Ryan said. "We do a very good job during the week of getting ourselves prepared and ready to play."

Sticking to the routine is a key part of getting ready for the playoffs for Ryan.

"That provides confidence," Ryan said. "I think guys need to focus on doing the best that they can with where their feet are at on that time of the day."

Matt LaFleur, who was Ryan's quarterbacks coach for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, is the Rams offensive coordinator.

Ryan isn't concerned that he'll share the nuances of the Falcons' attack with the Rams' brain trust.

"He obviously knows our personnel, knows our guys and the scheme pretty well," Ryan said. "But at the end of the day, these games come down to guys on the field. When we get our chances, we have to make some plays."

The Falcons played the Rams last season and blasted them, 42-14, on Dec. 11, 2016. But the Rams have been retooled under first-year head coach Sean McVay and veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

"We are familiar with some of what they do and I'm sure they are familiar with some of what we do," Ryan said. "It's going to be a good test and good battle for us. When we get our chances as players, we have to make plays."

SERIES HISTORY: 79th all-time meeting. Rams lead the series, 47-29-2. The Falcons lead the playoff series, 1-0. The Falcons beat the Rams in the only meeting in the playoffs, 47-17, on Jan. 15, 2005. The Run DVD offense, which featured Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick and T.J. Duckett, rushed 40 times for 327 yards against the Rams in the only playoff of the former NFC West division foes. The Falcons, who moved to the NFC South in 2002, used to play the Rams regularly.

--Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is a candidate to replace Bruce Arians as Arizona's head coach and is scheduled to interview with team next week, according to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.

"The process that the league has is good," Quinn said. "At this time of the year, guys get some opportunities to do that and getting a chance to visit is usually the initial parts of it.

"Keith Armstrong will be one next week (who) will get an opportunity to do that and get going in that process. We are pumped for the guys when they get these opportunities, but that won't be until next week."

Armstrong, 54, played for Arians at Temple and has coached in the NFL for the last 24 years. His units with the Falcons have always been strong, and the team set a punt-coverage record in 2008.

"He's a fantastic young coach," Arians said before facing the Falcons in 2013. "He's going to be a head coach someday. I've admired him for a long time ever since he played for me at Temple."

Armstrong and Jets head coach Todd Bowles both played for Arians at Temple.

Armstrong, a native of Trenton, N.J., nearly landed the Kansas City job four years ago.

In addition to interviewing with the Chiefs in 2012, Armstrong has had interviews with the Eagles and the Bears.

Armstrong sent cover man and returner Eric Weems to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and returner Devin Hester in 2014. Falcons special-teams player Derrick Coleman is a first alternate this season.

Before returning to coach with the Falcons in 2008, Armstrong coached special teams for the Dolphins (2001-07), Bears (1997-2000) and was the Falcons' safeties coach in 1994 and '95 and the secondary coach in 1996.

Before entering the NFL, he coached in college at Temple, Akron, Miami, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.

Armstrong also was part of the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program during training camps with the New York Jets (1991), Dallas Cowboys (1992) and Chicago Bears (1993).

--Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder is proud of the way the team reached the playoffs.

"It's exciting especially the way we did it," Schraeder said. "We didn't take the easy route. It's a little different than last year. We had the home field all throughout. We are a different team from last year with the way that we won the tough road games."

The Falcons are considered to be a dangerous sixth seed.

"We've been through the battles like that," Schraeder said. "We haven't been blowing people out as much. That grind and that grit that it takes to finish the game at the end is invaluable. Especially, for this team and this year and what we are trying to do with this game this weekend."

--The Falcons' run defense must stop Rams running back Todd Gurley.

Miami's Jay Ajayi was the lone running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Falcons as they averaged giving up 104.1 yards per game, which ranked ninth in the league.

The unit will be stressed by Gurley, who rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"They are making a lot of big explosive plays," Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "They are doing a good job of dividing defenses down the middle and that's where Gurley is (taking) a lot of his runs to the second level. When you get a back that big going that fast, you just don't want to let him get to the second level."

Last season, the Falcons plastered the Rams. Gurley rushed for 61 yards on 16 carries as the Falcons won 42-14 on Dec. 11, 2016.

NOTES: KR/PR Andre Roberts (knee/ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. With Roberts out, wide receivers Justin Hardy and Taylor Gabriel caught punts. ... RB Devonta Freeman (knee) returned to practice in a limited manner. He did not practice on Tuesday. ... WR Julio Jones (ankle/ribs) returned to practice after not participating on Tuesday. He was limited. ... DE Adrian Clayborn (calf) was limited in practice. ... C Alex Mack (calf) was limited in practice. ... TE Levine Toilolo (knee) was limited in practice. ... WR Taylor Gabriel (hamstring) was limited in practice.

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