After a semi-disappointing opening week that saw the Falcons fall to a loss in New Orleans, the team returns home for week 2 against the emerging St. Louis Rams. Let’s take a look to expect when the Birds make their home debut.
Opponent - St. Louis Rams (1-0)
Time/TV - 1:00 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Rams Defense
In theory, this should be a much greater test than the one provided by New Orleans last week. The Rams finished in the top half of the league in 2012 in both yards against and points allowed, and there is legitimate talent on that side of the ball for St. Louis. However, they allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense to the lowly Cardinals last week (including 304 through the air), and that’s pretty encouraging.
The major headline in this game is the battle of Steven Jackson against his old team. It isn’t quite a “return home” since the game is in Atlanta, but Jackson spent the entirety of his 9-year career with the Rams prior to this season, and he’ll be fired up. Last week, Jackson only touched the ball 16 times (11 carries, 5 catches), but I would look for that number to rise above 20 in this spot due to the combination of performance and opportunity. With that said, the strength of the Rams defense is certainly the front 7, and Jackson will need to be helped by improved run blocking to have a chance to go north of 100 yards on the ground.
Matt Ryan will be entering this game without his (completely) full compliment of weapons, as Roddy White is still hobbled by a high ankle sprain. All indications are that he will be on the field when this game opens, however, and with the White/Jones/Gonzalez trio, the focus will be on the Rams secondary. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if there’s a weak spot on this defense, it’s at the back-end, and Julio Jones (who is also troubled by knee problems this week) could get loose on a big play or two. Keep an eye on Harry Douglas, who could see the field a lot if one or both of the studs on the outside are limited due to injury.
Falcons Defense vs. Rams Offense
For all of the negativity surrounding the Falcons defense this week, they allowed 23 points on the road to one of the best offenses in the league.
I’m not arguing that the Falcons played well defensive (they didn’t), but in the end, it’s tough to pin the entirety of the team’s 0-1 start on that side of the ball. St. Louis presents an easier challenge here, as Sam Bradford certainly isn’t Drew Brees (no matter what Oklahoma fans tell you), and the Rams aren’t blessed with skill position players that much up to the likes of Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles.
Sam Bradford could be emerging after a near 300-yard day last week, but the weapons don’t scare you. Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, and Austin Pettis make up the starting wide receiver trio (no, really, they do) and that should be a welcomed breather for the banged-up Falcons secondary. However, Jared Cook (an Atlanta product out of North Gwinnett high school) exploded last week, and he profiles as the type of tight end that the Falcons would have all kinds of trouble containing over the middle of the field.
On the ground, it’s unclear what the distribution of workload will be for the Rams. Daryl Richardson got the start last week, but he’s nicked up with injury and rookie Isaiah Pead returns from suspension in week 2. Neither player is particularly frightening, however, and the front 7 should be able to pin their ears back a bit in pursuit of a pass rush on Bradford.
At home, the Falcons are a 7-point favorite (courtesy of the great city of Las Vegas), and that sounds about right to me. Atlanta is the better team in this spot, the crowd will be alive from before the game even kicks off, and the Falcons are angry after starting the season 0-1. It’ll be interesting to see how much (if at all) the injured players (Roddy White, Asante Samuel, etc.) appear in this game, but other than that, it’s a ‘take care of business’ afternoon for the Falcons.