TEMPE, Ariz. — For the past five seasons, quarterback Matt Ryan and linebacker John Abraham, while on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, shared the same sideline in Atlanta.
That changes Sunday when Ryan and the Falcons visit University of Phoenix Stadium.
The former teammates will face each other the first time since Abraham signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent in the offseason.
“It will be different,” Ryan said during a conference call Wednesday. “It will be difficult because we know how great of a player he is. He was a great teammate when he was here in Atlanta, and certainly I enjoyed my time with him. He made a ton of plays for us throughout most of my career.”
Abraham, cut by the Falcons after seven seasons, left Atlanta as the franchise career leader with 68.5 sacks, including 32.5 over his final three years.
Last week against Seattle, he recorded his first two sacks as a Cardinal, giving him 124 for his career. Both sacks forced fumbles by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
“John is as good as any throughout his career about the strip fumbles,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “Those are big. Those are not only sacks, but those are sacks and recoveries, and sometimes they lead to really big plays…They usually can lead to scores, quick scores.”
Abraham’s first forced fumble against the Seahawks led to a Rashard Mendenhall rushing score, while the second resulted in Jay Feely’s third and final field goal.
Abraham, 35, has now totaled 46 forced fumbles in his career, more than any other active player in the league.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Smith answered when asked if he’s surprised by how well and how much Abraham has played. “John is a very gifted athlete — very explosive pass rusher coming off the edge. I think his play time is upwards of 75-80 percent, so he’s playing a lot of snaps and he’s doing a very good job. We know John very well. He knows our guys, and we look forward to going out and competing against him. I know he does the same, because he’s one of the more competitive guys I’ve been around. It doesn’t surprise me a bit though.”
Abraham, now in his 14th season, has gone from playing 20 snaps Week 1 at St. Louis to 65 snaps, off the field for only two plays, against Seattle.
His two sacks are tied for the fourth-most on the team.
How would it feel for Ryan should Abraham add to that total at his expense?
“It’s never fun getting hit by anybody,” the QB said, laughing. “That’s the best part of the deal. It will be interesting.”