The Falcons won seven games last season with one of the worst rosters in football. Can this be chalked up to coaching? In Atlanta’s case, absolutely. Arthur Smith and Dean Pees have done a stellar job of getting the most out of a rebuilding roster. That said, they still have a bad roster. Perhaps even worse than last year with Marcus Mariota attempting to replace Matt Ryan. Vegas set their over/under win total at 4.5 games for 2022.
The Falcons proved to be a tough out for the Saints last week. That was a combination of great coaching and some outstanding play from the few elite players the Falcons have rostered. The combination of those elements makes Atlanta an excellent bet to exceed their Vegas projections.
The Rams are looking for a get-right game after their thorough drubbing by the Bills last week. But they will also have to come prepared to handle these elite players. They could make this game more difficult than anticipated.
Here is a look at the key matchups: Rams vs Falcons.
Rams Run Defense vs. Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson rushed the ball 22 times for 120 yards and a touchdown. His 10 rushing first downs accounted for over 38 percent of the Falcons total first downs. It also allowed them to control the clock. All in all the Falcons rushed the ball 38 times in an effort to hold their early lead. The Falcons ended up possessing the ball for almost 34 minutes.
The Rams have had a difficult time beating patient teams that commit to running the ball for all four quarters. If Patterson is able to single-handedly advance the ball down the field it gives them a much better chance at upsetting the Rams.
Patterson actually ran the ball two more times than the entire Bills offense did against the Rams last week and he was one yard shy of the Bills rushing total. Outside of Josh Allen‘s five scrambles for 56 yards, the Bills didn’t move the ball very effectively, just 65 yards on 15 attempts.
Now is that due to the fact that they were dominant in passing the ball or did the Rams defense do a good job shutting that aspect of the Bills offense down?
Historically, Smith likes to run the ball a lot on early downs. Of course, when you come up the ranks with Derrick Henry in your backfield, that’s not a bad thing. Patterson is not Henry and yet Smith continued in week one to use him like Henry.
The Rams should pick up on this trend and be prepared to bolster the defensive line with linebackers and maybe bring a safety in for help. Forcing teams into long 3rd downs, which are obvious passing situations, is a great way to stall their offense.
The Rams struggles with patient running teams last season had a lot to do with poor linebacker play in the box. The addition of Bobby Wagner was a direct response to those issues. Crowding the box will force Patterson to be indecisive in hitting open gaps in the line, a direct result of his coming to the running back position later in his career. In his first full season at the position, 22 percent of Patterson carries we stopped for zero or fewer yards last season, fourth worst among backs last year.
Patterson can still also be a threat as a pass catcher. Last season, he caught 52 passes going for 10.5 yards per catch, the second most YPC among qualified running backs.
Jalen Ramsey vs Kyle Pitts and Drake London
The Falcons have two formidable pass catchers in Kyle Pitts and Drake London. In his rookie season, Pitts led the Falcons in catches and receiving yards. He was one of two rookies last season to eclipse 1000 yards receiving. London is off to a similar rookie campaign. He caught five passes for 74 yards against the Saints. Pitts was not much of a factor catching two passes on seven targets.
It’s not hard to see why these two are projected to be dominant receivers in the NFL for the foreseeable future. They are like the football equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs Twin Towers combo of David Robinson and Tim Ducan. With Pitts at 6’6” and London at 6’4” defensive backs will struggle with contesting jump balls. But they are also both highly athletic making it even harder to cover them.
The Rams top targeted corners were Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill. Both were targeted six times. If that remains true in the game against Atlanta, Hill’s size could be a major liability. Hill is 5’11”, a full seven inches shorter than Pitts. If the Falcons attack this matchup, Pitts will rack up stats on Sunday. This will force Ramsey or Robert Rochell to cover Pitts. Of course, Hill on London isn’t ideal either. This means that the pressure on Ramsey is going to be very high.
The Rams should consider taking a page out of the Saints playbook when it comes to containing these playmakers. And it isn’t something that is very foreign to them, playing a lot of zone coverage. Last season the Saints spent around 57 percent in zone coverage. When playing the Falcons that percentage jumped to the mid-’60s. In week one this season it jumped to the mid-’70s. The Saints have held Pitts to seven catches and 89 yards in three games.
Ramsey is a much better zone coverage defensive back. His PFF grade while in zone is 81.8 and that drops to 51.9 when in man coverage.
These receivers will make defenses pay, so neutralizing one will go a long way in slowing their offense. Ramsey will have to take the reigns on this aspect of the game.
Rams Edge Rushers Vs Falcons Offensive Line
The Rams edge rushers accounted for zero pressures against the Bills. Their inability to set the outside edges of the pocket led to Josh Allen’s 26-yard touchdown throw to Gabriel Davis. Aaron Donald was the only Rams player that was able to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Of course, there is a drop-off in talent level between the Bills offensive line and the Falcons. But Leonard Floyd has missed practice time this week due to a knee injury and will be listed as questionable as of the final injury report before the game.
The long and short of it is the Rams will need this group to have some impact on this game. By no means is Mariota an elite quarterback. But if the pocket is kept clean and the edges go unset, he will have a field day. It cannot be all on Donald’s shoulders to carry the pass rush.
Rams Offensive Line Vs Grady Jarrett
The Rams offensive line looked terribly against the Bills. Not just bad against a good defensive line but downright bad. And to boot, they lost at least one starter, Brian Allen, to injury and Joseph Noteboom has spent this week dealing with a knee issue and will be listed as questionable as of the final injury report. Coleman Shelton will move from guard to center and Tremayne Anchrum will take over for Shelton at guard.
The Falcons defense racked up 17 pressures and five sacks against the Saints. Interior Defensive lineman, Grady Jarret was the driving force. Jarrett splits most of his time between left and right tackle, meaning he will be going up against Anchrum a lot. Some of the big questions coming out of the loss to the Bills last week were in large part contingent on how badly the offensive line played.
Those questions about Allen Robinson’s role and the quality of the Rams’ running backs were both unanswered because the offense couldn’t get going. And it doesn’t look like this line is going to get markedly better before Sunday
The Rams are 8.5-point favorites to win this game. If the Rams are anywhere close to the team they were last season, they will stomp the Falcons. The Atlanta offense can put up points and are a scrappy team, so it won’t be a breeze of a game. But it’s obvious the Rams need to get some things to click or get Les Snead on the phone with Andrew Whitworth, asap.