Matt Ryan on Vikings: Thoughts on defense, Devonta Freeman’s return, message to rookies 

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan addressed the media ahead of the Week 1 road matchup against the Minnesota Vikings and, like all players and coaches at this time of year, he is ready to get the season underway.

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Here are four notable takeaways from Ryan’s press conference:

Falcons off to a ‘good start’ with preparation Vikings

Ryan noted that the Falcons had everyone practicing on Wednesday except for Matt Gono (back), who was limited.

“Today’s meetings and practice were a solid start for us,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do the rest of the week, but it was a good start to the week. I think we’re all excited the regular season is finally here.”

Excited to have a healthy Devonta Freeman back

One of the main storylines as the Falcons begin the 2019 season is the return of Devonta Freeman to the starting lineup. Freeman has missed 16 games over the past two seasons.

Freeman, entering his sixth season, looks energized and as explosive as he was before suffering several injuries. The Falcons are counting on the running back to have a big season as they look to get the rushing attack back on track. Atlanta finished as the 27th ranked unit in 2018.

“His production when he’s been heathy is as good as anybody,” Ryan said of having Freeman. “He’s really effective for us in the run game, he’s got the ability to create explosive plays even when a run is only blocked for three or four yards. His ability to make people miss, to maintain balance after contact, it’s special. We’re lucky to have him back. He’s huge for us in the pass game as well.”

Message to the rookies

If Kaleb McGary wins the starting role at right tackle job, the Falcons will be starting two rookies on the right side. Chris Lindstrom has already solidified the job at right guard and McGary is currently battling with Matt Gono to crack the starting lineup.

Regardless of if McGary starts or not, Ryan said his message to him ahead of their first NFL game is to “relax and trust your training.”

“In the NFL, it’s tough every week,” Ryan said. “They’re prepared. All those guys have had a nice preseason for us. They’ve done all you can expect for young guys to do. They’ve worked extremely hard, they’ve practiced well. They’re not making those same mistakes over and over. You love to see that from those guys. It will be fun for them. That’s more so what I stress to them. Just relax, trust your training and go out there and play the way that you’ve played your entire life. It’s gotten you to this point. You’re talented enough and prepared enough to go out there and play really well.”

Challenges the Vikings’ defense presents

The Vikings return 10 of 11 starters from a unit that finished fourth in yards allowed per game (309.7). Minnesota’s defensive line features three standout players Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph – who combined for 21 sacks in 2018. Hunter accounted for more than half of the sacks.

Ryan talked about the challenges Mike Zimmer’s defense presents having gone up against him several times throughout his career, noting the type of pressure packages they bring can be challenging.

“Well, No. 1, they play physical across the board,” Ryan said. “Defensive line, second-level, secondary, they all play physical. They’re solid tacklers. They do a nice job within their pressure package. They give you a bunch of different looks, stress your protections. We’ve got to be on top of that. They attempt to make you uncomfortable.

“We’ve got to do our best to be on top of our game plan and try and neutralize some of the things that they do well. We’ve got to play physical. That’s probably the biggest thing. When you go against a defense of his, I’ve played against (Zimmer) a number of times, both here and in Cincinnati, and you’ve got to play tough against them.”

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