Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan
On having the top-rated offense in the NFL statistically:"I think we've done a good job up front. Our offensive line has played really well and gotten the run game going in all three games that we've played in, so I think that's helped us to get started, and then we've been opportunistic. When we've had opportunities to make plays, we've taken advantage of that. So I think we've done a nice job early on."
On the balance between their run and pass game:"For us, it's been really good. We've been very balanced, run-to-pass. In the pass game, we've done a great job getting the ball to a number of different guys and getting everybody involved. I think balance across the board has been big. When you can do that – when you can run the football effectively and throw it effectively – it makes it difficult for a defense to defend."
His expectations when playing against Carolina:"You always know it's going to be a really tough game. Very physical defense. They're great competitors, they play really hard and they're very well-prepared every time you go against them. For us, when you know you're going to play them, you have to play your absolute best. That's our focus all week – to prepare so that we're ready to play our best football Sunday at 1."
On people saying that Atlanta has not played against a great defense this season:"You play the teams on your schedule and you don't worry about that kind of stuff. That's what I think. You go out there and play as hard as you can, week-in and week-out and try to score as many points as you can on the offensive side of the ball. We don't really worry about anything else."
On what he sees in Carolina's defense:"An excellent defense. I think their front seven does a great job both against the run and the pass. Two excellent linebackers. A front four that is very deep across the board. Those guys play extremely well. For us, it's going to be important to play well up front and to prepare for their scheme. I think they do a great job of understanding their scheme and understanding the offenses that they're going against."
On Carolina's pass rush:"Their numbers might not be there in terms of sacks or whatever. But to me, when you watch them, there's still really good push on that pocket. They're very aggressive. I think the scheme looks similar to what they've been doing in the past. I really feel like it's a very good defense when you watch the film and a very good front four and very physical. It's going to take our best effort, that's for sure."
His impressions of Carolina's new starting cornerbacks:"Young secondary. I think they're talented. You watch those guys, they're both very athletic. That's probably the thing I see the most. Good athletes on the outside that are confident and aren't scared to make plays. They tie in really well with the front seven."
On not forcing the ball to wide receiver Julio Jones:"I think for me, I just try and go where the coverage and our play call dictate where the ball goes. That's the way I play. Certainly, Julio's such a great player that he's going to put up big numbers for us. There's no question about that but it's just how games shake out and sometimes defenses try to defend him differently and that makes an advantage for us somewhere else. He helps the team that way. We'll see how it shakes out this week. You never know. But he's a great player."
On any memory he has from the Panthers-Falcons rivalry in the Georgia Dome:"There's been a lot of great games, tough games, with Carolina in the dome. That's for sure. Both here and there, there's been some really good, tough games. Probably my favorite – I think there was a game where we came back. We hit a long pass to Roddy White and then kicked the field goal. It was a good come-from-behind win for us."
On beating Carolina in Week 16 last year to end their undefeated season:"It was a good win for us. There's no question about it, they were a great football team last year. I think they're a very good football team again this year. It was a good win but that was then. I think we're really focused on this week and not really thinking about what happened last year."
On the large numbers of Carolina fans that travel to the Georgia Dome:"They've got a great fan base. That's something that we've known. It's loud when we play there and they have some fans here in the area too because they're so close. The two cities are so close together. We don't worry about it. We just go out there. We've got great fan support here in Atlanta and go play our game." **On winning the NFC South after Carolina has won it the previous three straight years: *"We've got a long way to go. The one thing I've learned in eight-plus years of playing is that a lot of things can happen between now and January. If you're worried about where we're going to be or who is going to be where that time of the year, your head is not in the right place. It's an important game for us because it's a division game and it's this week's game. I really believe that's the mindset that everybody in our locker room has and so that's why we're ready for it because it's the next one on our schedule and it's a division-opponent coming in."
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn
On what he thinks is making his offense so successful this season:"The guys are getting in the act, and I think that's a real factor of why there is some of the production that there is. Both of the running backs are a factor. Outside at receiver, Julio Jones is always a factor, but we've added some targets in Mohamed Sanu and added some targets in Taylor Gabriel. The tight ends, you know, we have added Austin Hooper into that mix. We've got some new faces that through the offseason have worked hard together to put some things in. We know the challenges that Carolina has with (defensive coordinator) Sean McDermott and the guys defensively, and I think that's the real improvement. There has been more balance into what we've been doing."
On low targets to Julio Jones being similar to Kelvin Benjamin:"I'm sure Kelvin is a special player, too. Oftentimes there is unique coverage that may go to a guy. That oftentimes can dictate when a certain route or something can be hard knowing that guy gets special treatment. It's hard from our end, we're trying to, like always, to have opportunities for Julio. He didn't get the amount of catches in this game like he normally has but we targeted him some. He just didn't have the normal catches. I think often times there are games that go that way for whatever reason you didn't have the run-pass balance, another guy didn't get the amount of catches. Sometimes you just get out of whack that way. I don't think there is necessarily any rhyme or reason. Everybody knows he's a feature player for them. I wouldn't look too much into it."
On Carolina's offensive line allowing pressure on Cam Newton:"Number one I think for them, all the good success they have off of play action because they are such a good running team, they play as stout as could be and then the play action you see some of the big defensive plays that happen that way. On larger yardage third down, that's hard for everybody when you have seven-plus or longer ones. I don't know how many of those they've had. Just getting started on the second down this morning and tonight but that's usually when some breakdowns occur on the longer ones. I don't know if that's the case but I do know the run game and the play action from that group is what I'm especially impressed by."
On if he has to figure out a way to cover tight end Greg Olsen since his defense has struggled with tight ends:"We have. We know the challenge ahead with Greg. He's been, for me going and competing against Coach Ron Rivera and the guys through the years, he's been as challenging as there is at tight end. He's a handful with the routes he can run, he can break guys off, man-to-man. Our struggles against tight ends, some have been in zone, some have been in man, some we feel like we could have totally played better in terms of the technique to not allow some of the catches. On some of them, we agreed that they were some good catches and throws to be made. We've got a lot of work to do and we understand the task at hand: how to match up, how to play against a player like Olsen. You're right, it's definitely an emphasis for us."
On the significance of this game:"The significance for us in terms of it being a division game. We recognize how well they've played. Everybody has to. They've done it. So for us, to play well in the division and the division matchups, when they come around you have to recognize right where we are at. We're just getting started. Both guys have only played three games but we expected a tough play. Two tough teams to go battle for it. We give them the respect that they deserve. They've played really well to earn those division titles. As we're getting through it, honestly it's the next division game for us. This will be our third one in four weeks so we like how that came through for us as part of how the schedule goes but we recognize how good they are."
On how to plan for Carolina's defense:"I think quite a bit different. Just because of the style Sean McDermott has in terms of the way they want to feature the front players, the linebacker play. It's an aggressive front seven, that's for sure. We have real respect for how fast these inside linebackers play, key and diagnose. I've always been impressed with the ball-hawk mentality that their defense has had. We know we have our work cut out for us in that way. Those are a few of the things that I've been impressed by from that unit through the years."
On how they are ranked the number one offense and if he would respond that "they just play the opponents on their schedule":"No I would respond, 'We're just getting started.' After three games, a lot of those statistics that are more meaningful at the end of the year. We know we're just getting rolling. There's a lot of work that we need to do offensively. We know that. We liked some of the stats that you hear. But if you look too far into that you forget about the process at hand and us digging to go get better. We generally don't look at the stats at this point and try to make too big of a deal over it. We get honest and we see can we keep getting better and can we improve from Week 1 to Week 2. I think we got better from Week 2 to Week 3. That's really where our focus lies. We're not going to get too jammed up on the stats part of things."
On what he has seen from the Panthers' pass rush:"I think number one we know the package that is there. How do you get your guys inside when you slide, defensive end, the defensive tackles. Those are for sure stuff… I just though the inside guys, those are supposed to push the pocket and collapse it to create opportunities for the ends. That's forever. Seems like it's been a hallmark there for guys who can push it and then when you add the pressure element to things, that's what makes going against them so challenging. The speed of the linebackers who can blitz and run, the speed of the front guys who can push it. That's what I know from watching the team and watching them this year."
On if he sees them getting that rush this year:"I don't know if I can compare year to year, each team is different. Just like us. We're trying to get our front together. They've got some new moving parts in there as well. I won't compare it to the years in the past just for, just like us, they are trying to make their way for the 2016 version of how they've played. I have tons of respect for the guys, I really do."
His concerns of facing the Panthers:"I have to say from the defensive standpoint their ability to ball hog. I've always felt the speed of them. They're aggressive. You just look back at the history there, that was, in my opinion, one of the factors of why they played so well. On the special teams side, I think the return ability of Ted Ginn, Jr. He's capable of taking one deep. We know that. Then offensively, the challenges that come with the team that is physical, that can run the ball and then have feature receivers you can use in unique ways like Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn, Jr. and Greg Olsen obviously. Those in the run game and then how they feature the guys. In all three phases, this is a challenge and that's the thing I'm most pleased about for our own team, that offensively, defensively and special teams in this last game, everybody had a chance to contribute. Defense had a score, the special teams had a long return, knocked the ball out and then offensively we played well in the red zone. So like Carolina, when you get all three phases involved and are playing well, that's what makes you a really good team and honestly, that's where we're trying to get, to become a really good team in all three phases. We know we have our work cut out for us. We have a lot of areas to improve but we are, we like what we -- the attitude of all three phases coming together."
On how important the Week 16 win last season against the Panthers was for his team:"I don't know if it's a feather in a cap. I thought we played more like we were capable of. We went to Carolina just a few weeks prior to that and they really kind of stuck it to us and we didn't play as well as we would have liked. That's a feeling that you don't like. To play better was certainly something that we felt better about but past that, not much. They were able to advance to the postseason and have a hell of a year and we had to watch that. Those are the kind of things that you have to go through. Those scars aren't fun to be home watching someone else play in the postseason. But we totally tipped our hats to them. When we went up there, like I said, it was not a good performance by us that day." **On how his offense has improved in the red zone since last season: *"Really we have put a lot of emphasis this year in the red zone. Through the offseason, through the work, OTAs and training camp, much like when you have a problem that you want to get fixed, you're going to keep putting a light right on it to stay involved in it. Two areas that we really wanted to fix this year that we addressed and will keep addressing is our ability to own the ball offensively and our work in the red zone. Those two things actually go hand in hand when we lost the ball down in the red zone, points came off the board. Points stopped. For sure, it's a huge emphasis and we tried to give it the time and due that it deserves, the extra practice reps on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. So when we get those opportunities down there, we'll nail it better. We're off to a good start in the red zone. We know we have a huge challenge for us this week, but we're just getting started on the whole thing and we're off to a good start down there."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against Atlanta.