Paul Worrilow and the rest of Atlanta's linebackers go up against Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman every day in practice. So when they have to face someone like the Saints' Mark Ingram – a strong, multidimensional running back who, in many eyes, is having his best NFL campaign to date – they feel well-prepared for the challenge at hand.
"There's not many better than Freeman and Coleman out in the open field. So (training) camp and all the way through the season, going up against those guys, definitely prepares you to face anybody in the league in the open field," Worrilow said.
"Ingram's a good one, real good, just facing him over the years. He's similar to the guys we've faced the past couple weeks in (Carlos) Hyde and (Jonathan Stewart). That physical presence that he brings, he gets to the outside, those one-on-one matchups – they try to create those for him on the corner. He's good at making guys miss, and he's good at finishing his runs."
Averaging 5.1 yards per carry, Ingram has been impressively consistent this season. He's notched 50-plus rushing yards in 10 of 15 appearances; he's been a dangerous pass-catcher, too, gaining 290 yards and four of his nine TDs through the air.
"Mark is a tough, hard-nosed guy, loves to compete," Deion Jones said. "He's a good back in this league."
The 27-year-old is coming off a strong performance against Tampa Bay, rushing for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Heading into Week 17, the Alabama product is also 60 yards shy of the first 1,000-yard campaign of his career, a milestone he said every running back aspires to reach.
Eclipsing that mark won't be easy, though – especially with the way Atlanta's defense has performed of late. The Falcons have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since their bye week, and only one opponent – Hyde – has amassed 70 yards on the ground in that span.
"Man, those guys, they've been playing well as a unit all year," Ingram said about Atlanta's defense during a conference call with the local media. "The Falcons offense hasn't had a lot of turnovers, and the defense has been causing a lot of turnovers, so that's definitely a recipe for success. So we're going to have to take care of the football.
"Those guys fly around; they're disruptive on the D-line and on the second level. They've got some fast 'backers. We're going to have to play a great game to go into the Georgia Dome, in a hostile environment, and come away with a win."