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Falcons' new priority: Keep Matt Ryan upright

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Opposing defensive coordinators no doubt noticed what happened to the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ryan faced pressure all day, absorbing a season-high six sacks and 11 quarterback hits in a 41-17 loss at Pittsburgh. Sometimes, it was pressure off the edge. Sometimes, it was a linebacker and defensive back coming through the middle on a delayed blitz. In total, Ryan saw five-man or more pressure on 17 dropbacks, which marks a season high. On those 17 plays, he completed 7-of-13 passes for 64 yards with no touchdowns, four sacks taken, and a passer rating of 67.5.

After reviewing the film, Falcons coach Dan Quinn assessed what happened to Ryan on the six sacks.

"There were some technique errors at offensive line, at running back, when [we] went through it," Quinn said. "Each one specifically had an issue that we had to deal with and get corrected."

The Falcons (1-4) need to get those issues fixed and be better equipped to handle any pressure -- blitzes or not -- considering how vital their offensive production will be to their success moving forward. The defense, which could get defensive tackle Grady Jarrett back soon from an ankle/knee injury, just can't be counted upon weekly, based on significant injuries to impact starters and fundamental breakdowns by the guys currently in the lineup.

The Falcons need to score more than 17 points in a game to enjoy success, but that won't happen with Ryan flat on his back. Ryan even had an X-ray on his foot following the game in Pittsburgh, although Quinn declared his quarterback 100 percent ready to go for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Ryan clarified Tuesday on 680 The Fan radio that someone stepped on his foot. Then again, the Falcons got stepped on all game by the Steelers' swarming defense.

"It was a tough day in terms of handling some of their pressures," Ryan said during the radio appearance. "One of the things that Pittsburgh has done historically well is create confusion with their scheme. They blitz different guys. They give you different looks. They overload one side, bring it from the other."

Ryan has to be kept clean under pressure or get the ball out quicker when the situation calls for it. That means the line has to do its job, and the running backs have to be able to pick up blitzes. The Falcons made one adjustment against the Steelers in leaving blocking tight end Logan Paulsen in the backfield to help with protection.

Of course, the onus is on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to design plays to help alleviate the pressure, such as using the screen game and perhaps keeping his star wide receiver Julio Jones more involved, regardless of the coverage. Moving Ryan out of the pocket is helpful, too, unless a fast defensive lineman such as T.J. Watt is running him down from behind.

The players understand the issues and how to correct them.

"It's just really attention to detail from everybody," veteran right guard Brandon Fusco said. "Not just the offensive line with protection, but running backs, tight ends, even Matt just understanding hot [routes]. We all need to be better.

"We watched the film, and it just wasn't us. We have to clean up things. You have to block your guy longer. Again, we just have to better. That's pretty much it."

So far this season against the blitz, Ryan has completed 31 of 51 passes for 437 yards with one touchdown, one interception, and nine sacks taken -- seven of them against the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles combined. He was sacked 10 times all of last season being blitzed.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Falcons still have three of the NFL's top five blitzing teams remaining on their schedule: No. 1 Arizona (39 percent), No. 2 Cleveland (38 percent), and No. 5 Baltimore (32 percent).

"Blitz pickup as a whole takes a lot of different things," center Alex Mack said. "Blocking the people is a good place to start. But it comes down to really studying film, expecting what they're going to do, staying on your technique.

"Sometimes you can't block everything, so the ball's got to get out. And another thing is just run the ball. If you run the ball and get that going really well, you can catch them on blitzes and hurt them. They're going to be less confident to blitz if they don't know if it's run or pass."

This week against Tampa Bay (2-2), it's likely to be more about keeping Ryan upright against four-man pressure. The Buccaneers have struggled defensively yet still have Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul up front along with Kwon Alexander at linebacker. Tampa is tied for 27th in the league with eight sacks, the same amount as the struggling Falcons' defense.

The Bucs also have former Falcons coach Mike Smith as their defensive coordinator.

"They're coming off a bye and are going to be fresh and all of that," Ryan said during the radio interview. "Those guys are talented. They can make plays. They're athletic. They're physical. Probably haven't played the type of defense that they've expected of themselves up until this point.

"But it's a [defensive] scheme that we're very familiar with. Obviously, we play them twice a year and know a lot of their coaching staff really well, too. ... We've got to play up to the standard that we're capable of playing."