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Five Things We Learned: Sept. 5

Posted Sep 5, 2013

AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox shares five observations from his day spent with the Falcons as they spoke to the media and continued to prepare for their Week 1 opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

1. Keep the Streak Alive: It's a tribute to his talent that a career-long streak is overshadowed by his exceptional play and Roddy White said on Thursday that he doesn't intend to let his streak of never missing a game during his eight-year career stop now. It's not something that gets talked about much because the conversation on White is usually about how good he is, not how durable he is, but the fact can't be disputed. Head coach Mike Smith said Thursday that White is one of the toughest players he's ever coached. The four-time Pro Bowler said the streak isn't the kind of thing he thinks much about and as far as he's concerned he's just doing his job, which will continue on Sunday against the Saints: “Football players play football so you don’t think about missing a game or not playing. If you have the opportunity to go out there and play, you just play. I never really thought about the streak until everybody else started saying something about it. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to get yourself ready to play.”

2. Tony's Last Run, Part 2: This season Tony Gonzalez finds himself in one of the most unique positions in the professional life of anyone. He's going through the retirement process, again. Last season was supposed to be his last go, but after showing he can still play at the highest of the highest levels, he decided to come back one last time for one final Super Bowl run. Many of the emotions he was feeling last year as he thought he was doing things for the final time are back once again: “I’m in the same mindset as last year at this time. I’m soaking it up. I’m going to try to enjoy every last second that I’m out there on that field playing football because I know it’s going to end pretty soon. I’m looking forward to seeing how we all respond. More importantly, I want to see what type of team we have.”

PHOTOS: See Images from Thursday's Practice

3. Stopping Jimmy Graham: It's unclear who will want to get more out of Saints' tight end Jimmy Graham. His quarterback Drew Brees has a case since Graham is one of the most unique tight end mismatches in the league. Graham's head coach, Sean Payton, certainly is looking forward to using his young tight end, for reasons not unlike Brees', plus the coach was suspended for all of last season. Graham himself can also make a good case since last year was a down year of sorts (982 yards, 9 TDs) compared to his Pro Bowl production in his just second season in 2011. The Falcons have struggled at times against tight ends on defense and they expect Payton, Brees and the Saints to look to get Graham started early. The linebackers draw a tough task against Graham, but rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu, who has gotten a lot of snaps in the preseason with Sean Weatherspoon in coverage, could be play a major factor. Weatherspoon said in addition to Graham, the linebackers will be focused on running back Darren Sproles: “Being a linebacker, you’ve got to be able to fit the run game and cover backs and tight ends. They’ve got two of the best in the game, explosive guys. We’ve got a trick here and there to get some help and have some one-on-ones with them. And we’ll be aggressive.”

4. Defense Anticipates Similar Saints Offense: The last time the Falcons faced Brees and the Saints, they were 23-13 winners at the Georgia Dome last season in late November. The Falcons defensed forced Brees into one of the worst games he's had in his career, throwing five interceptions and ending his record-setting streak of 54 games games with a touchdown pass. That game may have been a revelation for the defense and they expect similar looks from the Saints again this time around. All of Atlanta's defensive experience against Brees is beginning to come in handy, but safety William Moore said Brees can take subtle changes in a defense and light it up: "They do what works. Quarterbacks like that tend to pick up from mistakes. They take advantage of stuff they see on film. It might be something a defense picked up, but he can still make a good play. Quarterbacks like Drew, you can never game plan around him and be right on point because he will take advantage of the small things."

5. Attacking Saints' Secondary: The Falcons aren't the only team in this matchup concerned with stopping a high-powered offense. The same is true of the Saints and their need to slow down Atlanta's attack. New Orleans added free agent Keenan Lewis to start opposite Jabari Greer in this year's secondary and though Lewis only has one career interception in four seasons, the former Steeler had 23 pass deflections last season. At 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, Lewis brings the necessary size/strength combo to defend White and Julio Jones. Lewis was a full-time starter last season with Pittsburgh and head coach Mike Smith thinks that addition gives New Orleans a cornerback duo with some talent: "He's an experienced corner that's played a lot of games. Jabari Greer on the other side has been their most productive player in terms of making plays on the ball. It's a good tandem. I really think that they've got the makings of being a very good defense. Statistically they weren't where they wanted to be last year and that's why they've got a new coordinator. I know Rob (Ryan) will have them ready to go."


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