Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan discusses the return of running back Devonta Freeman and the challenges the Minnesota Vikings will present on Sunday. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter

QB corner: Ryan expects chess match with Vikings’ Newman 

Back in 2003 when Newman was drafted, Ryan was finishing up his fine high school career at Penn Charter in Philadelphia.  

“He’s a vet,” Ryan said. “He’ll go into the slot. He’s got a ton of experience.”

Newman, 39, played for the Cowboys (2003-11) the Bengals (2012-14) and Minnesota (2015 to present). 

“He’s been in this scheme in different places for a long time and understands it very well,” Ryan said. “I think that experience is critical for them. He’s solid and willing in the run game.

“He’ll go in and make some tackles. He’s still very good in the pass game. He probably recognizes patterns and route combinations as good as anybody just from all of the experience that he has.”

Newman has followed Vikings coach Mike Zimmer around the league.

“Terence is extremely smart,” Zimmer said. “He's a great person. He does a great job in the meetings with the players. There are some separate meetings where they talk about routes and combinations and things like that. How to play certain things. He's been with me for a long time, so he knows exactly how we are trying to play things, typically.” 

Ryan may have his full stable of running backs against the Vikings. Devonta Freeman returned to practice on Wednesday after being released from the league’s concussion protocol. 

Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward should be available to help Ryan combat Newman and the fundamentally sound Minnesota defense. 

“It’s always good when you have players like that coming back, it’s huge,” Ryan said. “Devonta does so much for us running the football, but also in the passing game. He’s a critical part of it. I think it was huge that he was able to practice today.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that Freeman should be able to take over his full load.

 “We’re hopeful of that, yeah,” Quinn said. “From a conditioning standpoint, he’s in good shape. He’s really pushed it in that way, so we’re hopeful that we get back to both  (Coleman) and Free and use them together.”

Ryan is looking forward to getting Freeman back. 

“It adds a lot of depth at that running back position,” Ryan said. “I thought Terron did a great job of stepping up in Devonta’s absence. To be able to use all three of those guys and keeping them fresh is a good thing for us.”

The offense has been playing well over the three-game winning streak. Ryan and the Falcons have posted victories over Dallas, Seattle and Tampa Bay. The Vikings have won seven straight.

But Ryan wants the offense to continue to improve.  

“It’s always a work in progress and we’ve been better the last couple of weeks,” Ryan said. “I think we’ve been better in the red area. But we still (must) to continue to work at it.”

After a few hot weeks, the Falcons are No. 1 in third down conversions at 48.09 percent on the season.

“In order to stay at a level that you want to stay at, it requires a lot of work,” Ryan said. “It still has to be a main focal point for us. Even when we watched the film from the game the other day, there were still opportunities where we could have made a play to two more on third downs. Until you’re operating at the highest level, we’ll continue to put to try and get there.” 

Zimmer, Newman and the Vikings will have plan for Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs and was named the NFC’s offensive player of the week. 

“Matt Ryan is obviously one of the best in the league,” Zimmer said. “He throws the ball great and is very smart. They've got (Mohamed) Sanu and the offensive line is playing well. 

“The running game is good. (They have Taylor) Gabriel and they've got some other fast receivers. Just defending their whole offense is difficult let alone trying to defend against (just) Julio and Ryan."

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