Falcons open with compressed 3-game schedule

In addition to opening the season, for the second year in a row, against the rival New Orleans Saints, the Falcons are set to play three games over a span of 11 days to open the season.

“We have to get as many wins as we can stacked up early and that will help us down the line,” right guard Jon Asamoah said on Monday. “Getting off to a fast start and having that confidence that comes with it is huge.”

After facing the Saints, the Falcons travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Sept. 14. Then they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Georgia Dome.

The week between the games against the Saints and the Bengals will be a normal week. The Falcons will have the dreaded quick turnaround before hosting the Bucs.

The Falcons stressed that their players get the proper rest, which will allow their bodies to recovery faster.

“Recovery is always huge,” Asamoah said. “We have to be smart with what we do.”

The Falcons believe there may be some benefit to playing those games so close together at the outset of the season.

“This is the beginning of the year, so this is as fresh as our legs are going to be,” Asamoah said. “If there is a time to do (3 games in 11 days) it’s now.”

Wide receiver Julio Jones is coming back from a broken foot and the Falcons will monitor him closely during this opening stretch.

“The thing is, we just have to stay healthy and be smart about everything we are doing here,” Jones said. “But as long as everybody stays healthy, stays on top of their recovery and do what they need to do to stay healthy, I think we’ll be alright.”

The Falcons’ offense was downright dazzling at times during the exhibition season in which quarterback Matt Ryan completed nearly 76 percent of his passes. They are set to get running back Steven Jackson back in the lineup after he didn’t play in any exhibition games because of a right hamstring injury.

Defensively, the Falcons appear set to open the season with at least six new members from the unit that opened against the Saints last season.

How the new members fit together along with schematic changes were being ironed out during the exhibition games. The unit appeared to settle down in the third and fourth exhibition games.

“That’s what it looked like, but it’s just been in preseason games,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “I think for these first couple of games we’ll have a good chance to gel and see if we can grow as a defense.”

Umenyiora, a former New York Giants standout, got his first taste of the Falcons-Saints rivalry last season.

“You can’t let them run the ball and pass the ball,” Umenyiora said. “They are prolific passing offense. We have to find a way to take one of those away.”

The intensity of the games will increase during this opening three-game stretch. The Bengals feature one of the toughest defensive fronts in the league and Tampa Bay is expected to be much-improved under new coach Lovie Smith.

“We’ve done a good job of practicing,” Umenyiora said. “We have been trying simulate the intensity of the games in practice. The practices have been very physical for us.”

Umenyiora started last season against the Saints in the opener along with linebacker Akeem Dent, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Corey Peters, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, cornerback Robert McClain and safety Thomas DeCoud.

They will be replaced by Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu, Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, Robert Alford and Dwight Lowery.

Umenyiora, who has 82.5 career sacks, is set to embrace his role as the defense’s designated pass rusher.

“We all have a job to do and this is the job that they have carved out specifically for me,” said Umenyiora, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants. “I have to be the best at it. They want me to rush the passer and all of my focus and everything that I do will be focused on doing just that.”

Umenyiora is concerned somewhat because he won’t have time to get into a rhythm.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be an advantage, but mentally I’m going to have to work harder,” Umenyiora said. “I can’t waste any rushes. Every single chance that I get, I’m going to have to take advantage of it.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.