FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is preparing for what could be a tough day in Houston.
The 2016 NFL MVP might be without injured Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, and Atlanta’s line was already banged up with right guards Chris Lindstrom and Jamon Brown both sidelined.
Ryan, a 12th-year veteran with four Pro Bowl appearances, has had a rough first quarter of the season even though he ranks second in yards passing. He’s thrown six interceptions, one less than he had in 16 games last year. He lost a fumble last week that stalled a second-quarter drive near midfield and has been sacked 10 times.
In times like these, Ryan believes it’s important to keep his focus on this week’s game. He sees no point in getting upset with teammates for penalties or mistakes that have held the offense back.
“I think good leadership is at its best when things aren’t going great,” he said. “You’ve got to keep guys, one, confident, positive and upbeat. You’ve got to hold people accountable when things are good, so that it’s not just when things aren’t going well you’re calling people out. For me, I try to be as consistent as I can be every day, win or loss, of who I am in this building at all times.”
Atlanta (1-3) has dropped two straight heading into Sunday’s game against the Texans (2-2), and the offensive line already faced a tough challenge with Mack and Brown healthy. Houston, even despite losing last week at home to Carolina, forced steady pressure in the pocket, sacking backup Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen three times, hitting him five others and recovering all three fumbles they forced.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus lead the front seven.
“They get a lot of attempted rips around the passer,” Ryan said. “They’ve very good at getting the ball out in the pocket, causing sack-fumbles. We’ve got to do a great job in pass protection and with ball security in the pocket and be aware of where they’re at. They both play with great effort and they’re very physical.”
The Falcons could use a fast start. They have scored just once on an opening drive this year, a 50-yard field goal in the home win over Philadelphia, but Ryan thinks it’s important not to press.
“I’ve won a lot of games where we haven’t scored on the first drive as well,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when you get ’em. You’ve just got to get ’em.”
As tough as it would be not to have Mack, Ryan is confident Wes Schweitzer can play a strong game at center. Schweitzer has been with the Falcons since 2016 and has started 29 of his 35 career games at guard.
Schweitzer will start at right guard if Mack can play. Ty Sambrailo would fill in at right guard if Schweitzer moves to center. Schweitzer took over for a few snaps last week before Mack returned with his injured elbow wrapped.
“He’s a pro’s pro,” Ryan said. “He’s a guy we’ve asked to play left guard, right guard and center at different points throughout his career. He’s always on top of the game plan and knows his assignments. He goes out there and does a nice job for us.”
Ryan insists the Falcons might not be as bad as their record shows. They still have Julio Jones, one of the NFL’s elite receivers, second-year wideout Calvin Ridley and a solid tight end in Austin Hooper. But Atlanta, still needing for sixth-year veteran Devonta Freeman to help shore up the running game, is averaging just 17.5 points to rank 26th.
“We’re leaving points out there,” Ryan said. “We’re leaving drives out there with some of the stuff that we’ve done, whether it be penalties or turnovers. Those are the things that cut off points really quickly. We’ve got to get back to playing consistent football. When we do that, we’ve certainly got the talent to put up points the way we’re capable.”