“I don’t think you have to feel anymore than you do every week,” Ryan said Wednesday. “Our objective is to score as many points as we need to score, week-in and week-out, to get the job done. So, obviously you don’t want to lose guys on the defensive side of the ball.
“They are tough to replace, but we have confidence in those guys to step in and do their best. I’m certain that they will. But offensively, it’s the same as every week. We have to find a way to get the job done.”
But Neal and Jones both went to the Pro Bowl last season as alternates. They are set to be replaced by second-year players in Damontae Kazee, who'll take over at free safety, and linebacker Duke Riley. Ricardo Allen and Jordan Richards will play strong safety in some of the alignments.
“Obviously, you are disappointed for both of those guys,” Ryan said. “We see how hard they work day to day. How important this is to them. That part of it is tough. You never want to see that as a player.”
“We’ve got to have our guys go in there, step up and do what they are capable of doing,” Ryan said. “I believe we’ve got depth on this team that’s going to help us do that.”
Ryan was not able to muster much offense against the Panthers last season when the two teams split, with Carolina winning 20-17 at home Nov. 5 and the Falcons winning 22-10 at home Dec. 31. The Falcons earned a playoff berth with their victory, but needed five Matt Bryant field goals, three after the offense stalled in the red zone.
“Again, it was the first game and a lot of these guys didn’t get a lot of extended time in the (exhibition season),” Rivera said.
“The more they practice and the more they work at it and play, the better they are going to get. It’s a good football team. Believe me, we are not going to take these guys lightly at all.”
Because Sean McDermott and Steve Wilks have landed head coaching jobs in Buffalo and Arizona, the Panthers have their third defensive coordinator in past three seasons in Eric Washington.
“They are pretty similar,” Ryan said. “They’ve continue to hire from within. The scheme is really similar to what they’ve done in the past. To their credit, why would you change. They’ve been so successful on the defensive side of the ball.”
Ryan believes the Falcons’ offense must become more balanced. They called 43 pass plays to 18 running plays in the opener against the Eagles.
“In order to do that, you’ve got to be productive in those situations to create balance,” Ryan said. “You have to come away with points in the red area to maintain that lead and stay in the game to remain balanced. We have to do those things better.”
Ryan, who signed a $150 million contract extension in May, finished with a passer rating of 57.4 against the Eagles, his second sub-60 performance over his past five regular-season games. He had a 55.2 rating against the Saints in a 20-17 win Dec. 17, 2017.
It was Ryan’s lowest passer rating in a season opener of his career. His previously low was 67.6 at Pittsburgh in the 2010 season opener, at 15-9 loss in overtime.
“It’s my experience that there is always a lot of improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 in the regular season and as we move forward,” Ryan said. “The key for us as a team is to continue to get better as we move forward. I certainly know that was not as well as we are capable of playing the other night. We need to continue to improve.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.