SANTA CLARA — Donte Whitner held court at his locker Tuesday morning. Here’s what he said about the Atlanta Falcons’ offense.
Q: You guys have had success against the best quarterbacks – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. How will translate against Matt Ryan and the unique challenges he presents?
WHITNER: First and foremost, when you play the top quarterbacks in the league, you have to understand that pre-snap is everything to them. If you show them what they want, then they’ll give you what they want, and that’s a big play. If you have a bunch of guys who are conscious of that, then you can disguise and play with the quarterback and not give them what they want. They have to take a couple of seconds longer after the snap, and by that time the pass rush is there. That’s how rushing and coverage go hand in hand. As far as us, we do those things, so that’s why we have success against them.
Q: Is Matt Ryan a top quarterback?
WHITNER: Being a top pick, having to deal with the pressures of leading his team, coming back at the end of football games – I would say yes. Now, it hasn’t really translated to wins in the playoffs I would say yet. But he is up there with the top of the National Football League, he needs these next two games to prove it and we need these two games to prove that we are who we say we are.
Q: What challenges do the Falcons receivers present your secondary?
WHITNER: All big guys. Whenever you play big guys, the quarterback’s going to throw the ball up and they’re going to go get it. They’ll go over the middle. They’re not afraid. They can break tackles. And if you miss tackles against bigger guys that can take it to the house, then they probably will take it to the house. They have two special talents at wide receiver, and that’s why they’re having the success that they’ve had.
Q: Tony Gonzalez is not much of a blocking tight end anymore. Does that work in your favor?
WHITNER: Sometimes it can give things away for them. Mainly if they don’t feel he can handle our defensive ends or outside linebackers, probably they’ll just run away from him or slide the protection to him to help him pass block. If he’s not inside the formation it’s probably all pass. We get keys based on things like that. We’ll watch the film and see. But as far as getting vertical and making plays, he can still do it with the best of them. He had an excellent touchdown catch last week. So him working the middle of the field, Julio Jones, Roddy White working outside, they make it tough on teams but we feel like we match up well with them.
Q: Roddy White rarely drops the ball. How do you defend a receiver like him?
WHITNER: Our corners do a good job not allowing receivers past them on double moves. And then when they come in the middle of the field, we’re going to be extremely physical. That’s another dynamic that’s added to the game, it’s a mental thing and physical. It can change a lot of things out there. We plan on being physical.
Q: How has their running game improved the last few weeks?
WHITNER: They’ve really improved. That’s why they’re in the NFC Championship game. Early in the season I know there were questions about their run game and if they could run the ball in crunch time. They’ve been doing a good job the last couple of weeks. Turner is a unique runner. He’s very squatty, low center of gravity, really tough to bring down. Similar to Marshawn Lynch. So we’re going to have to gang tackle him. We’re going to have to know where he is and when he has the football and get him on the ground and not allow him to run and get those extra yards.