The Atlanta Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and the Panthers have the second-best pass defense in the league. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was asked if he believed in the concept of a "shut-down cornerback" in today's NFL.
"Yeah, but then I also believe in exceptional wide receivers and tight ends that we have, too," said Ryan. "I've been on both sides. I've played against some guys that are some of the best corners in the league, but when you trot out there with a guy like Roddy White or Julio Jones at different points in my career or Calvin Ridley, you feel pretty good about whoever you're going against."
"I have a lot of respect for corners in this league; it's a hard job. It's never a slight at them. I just have so much belief in the guys that we have."
Ryan entered the NFL in 2008 and has been a starter since day one his rookie season. He's seen a lot of exceptional defenders in his 14 seasons.
Which cornerbacks leave a mark in his memory?
"I go back to early on," said Ryan. "He ended up being a teammate of mine, but Asante Samuel in Philadelphia; he got me a few too many times … He let me know about it when he came here, too.
Samuel was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro in 2007. He played with the Falcons in 2012 and 2013. Ryan has been around long enough to see Asante Samuel Jr. enter the league as a second-round draft pick of the LA Chargers in April.
"[Darrelle] Revis was tough," said Ryan. "Josh Norman was really good in Carolina, going against him twice a year. Even in my younger days, Aqib Talib in Tampa when he was there, just a young, talented corner, very aggressive."
"I've played against a lot of good ones during my time. I've always been fortunate to have really good players on our side of the ball too. Guys that I always had confidence in.
Earlier this year, Ryan named safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu as the two best safeties he's ever faced. Samuel, Norman, Revis, and Talib are in good company with the two Hall of Fame safeties.
Ryan mentioned Ridley as one of those top receivers that he feels good about. Tight end Kyle Pitts is quickly becoming one of those players as well.
The Falcons' first-round draft pick out of Florida has 16 catches for 282 yards in Atlanta's last two games. He became the first rookie tight end in the last 50 years to record back to back 100-yard games.
The Falcons will need Ridley and Pitts to step up against a tough Carolina Panthers defense on Sunday. While the Panthers have lost four in a row, Carolina has the second best pass defense in the NFL through Week 7.
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