Whether you have been a fan since birth or just began watching, your Los Angeles Rams are in the playoffs. Here is a look at their wild card matchup with the Atlanta Falcons:
“People will always remember you by the last thing you did”- Unknown
Many teams rested their starting players while other teams were playing for their postseason lives in Week 17. The Rams were one of those teams that rested players in their Week 17 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. They used the game as an audition for their second and third-string players, while the Falcons won a dogfight with the Carolina Panthers to keep their season alive. The Atlanta-Carolina game gave me a chance to focus on both teams strength and weaknesses. Here is what was observed from the Falcons:
– With the Falcons football life at stake, they mustered only one touchdown and five field goals against a Panthers team that sat several starters throughout the game. The Falcons played their starters the entire game.
• Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got hit early and often from the left side.
• Wide receiver Julio Jones runs slants on early downs on play action. The Falcons always threw the ball when in the shotgun formation, even if they used play-action.
• Their running backs struggled to find space. Instead, they gained their yardage mostly on check-downs.
• Running back Devonta Freeman has compiled 59 yards rushing on 22 carries in the last 2 games. That’s a 2.68 yards per carry. Numbers like this often force teams to become a pass-first when they don’t necessarily want to be. Forced into that situation, they will often only run on 1st down or when all they need is a yard)
• Fellow running back Tevin Coleman rushed for only 22 yards on 11 carries, and mainly came in on passing downs.
• Tight end Austin Hooper looked slow and served as last option. He mostly blocked.
Overall, the offense struggled against the Panthers, even though their defense provided them with three interceptions. Yet the Falcons struggled to muster only six points off those turnovers, despite playing against second and third stringers in the second half.
• The Atlanta pass rush is inconsistent, and defensive backs get caught holding too often.
• As mentioned earlier, the defense recorded to three interceptions.
What to look for:
NFL analysts from across the country are giving the Falcons the edge due to their playoff experience, but Atlanta’s inconsistency is being forgotten. Meanwhile, the Rams continue to get better. Quarterback Jared Goff, in particular, continues to emerge. Goff closed the season leading the top scoring offense in the NFL. It also helps that possible 2017 MVP Todd Gurley put together a career year, which would make any quarterback’s life easier. Still, Goff led the No. 1 scoring offense through several ups-and-downs throughout a 17-game season. That should carry some momentum into the postseason. Expect Goff to spread the ball around the way head coach Sean McVay draws it up.
Speaking of spreading the ball around, that’s one thing almost all recent Super Bowl winning offenses have done. Having a No. 1 receiver can help your team win, but when defenses have to focus on three to four talented roles players, life can be miserable. That’s what the Rams do. They don’t do it perfectly – not yet. But they do it a little better every week. We’ve seen Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett all put together star games this season. Each week you never know who will step up, but someone nearly always does. That is how Super Bowl runs are made. The Falcons are in trouble if they believe stopping Todd Gurley is the way to victory. A key to victory – yes. However, the Rams feature more than just Gurley.
How Rams can win
This game is not going to be easy, but the Los Angeles Rams have defeated better teams. The New Orleans Saints man-handled the Falcons in Week 16. The Rams need to grab the lead early against the Falcons and force Atlanta to be one-dimensional. Other teams have mapped out how to beat Atlanta. Limit the running game, neutralize Coleman and Freeman, and force the Falcons to force the ball to Julio Jones. If they can take Jones away, they have little else that can really hurt you.
Why Rams will win
The Rams’ offensive line will control the Falcons edge rushers in the pass and run game. (Has anyone seen Vic Beasley since before the Super Bowl?) Rams can win by running the ball until brakes fall off. Overwhelming their smallish defensive line will eventually open the passing game. Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn will produce on national television and give Ryan the biggest headache this season. Overall, the Rams will win, because they are the better team in all phases of the game up to this point in the season.