G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
This week, Atlanta faces the 2008 Falcons St Louis Rams. As with last Thursday’s contest, this is a matchup of two extremely similar teams, but it’s hard not to feel that the Falcons have the edge. The Rams come in to this one with a great young quarterback, but the Falcons feature a better young quarterback. The Rams are built around a solid rush defense, as are Atlanta. Both teams utilise a physical running back to alleviate pressure from their developing QBs. Despite the similarities, the Falcons boast a far superior receiving corps and secondary. Atlanta’s road game "problems" aren’t monumental, but we do sometimes struggle away from the Dome. I feel we’ll need to perform solidly to pick up a win which we need to stay atop the NFC, and as such the best case scenario vs the Rams comes if Turner runs with anger, Spoon returns and shines and put the game on Bradford’s shoulders.
Turner runs with anger: Coming off a season low 39 rush yards, Michael Turner will want to come out swinging against the 6th ranked Rams rush defense. The Burner has had 5 games less than 100 yards this season, but following four of them he has rebounded with games over 100 yards (the fifth rebound game, vs the Cardinals following his 42 yards vs Pittsburgh, Turner gained 75 yards on 9 carries before leaving with an injury). Over his time in Atlanta, it’s been rare to see a healthy Michael Turner not produce in consecutive games, and if that trend continues, the Falcons could be well on the way to gaining an important road win. Passing the ball is always that little bit harder away from home, and establishing the run should be Mularkey’s first priority at the Rams. Despite Ryan coming out firing in the no-huddle offense on Thursday, I believe that on the road we have a better shot at winning if we do it the traditional Falcons way. When Turner has 22 or more carries, Atlanta are 16-1. I loved seeing Ryan and the offense come out aggressively against the Ravens, but away from the Dome it’s a different story. Set up the run, and allow an angry Turner to rebound.
Spoon returns and shines: It seems our first round picks just can’t stay healthy. Sean Weatherspoon has missed 5 games this year and, while Stephen Nicholas is a solid replacement, it’s hard not to push for the return of the big talking, hard hitting linebacker. Spoon’s best game came against the Cardinals in a 9 tackle, 1 sack effort. Through his 4 games, Sean came up with 29 total tackles, a sack and a pass defended. A big game from Spoon would cement our 7th ranked rush defense, and really take away Steven Jackson; one of the few offensive weapons the Rams have. The Rams biggest pass play all year came on a 49 yard pass to Jackson, however the ball only travelled about 3 yards in the air and the rest came with YAC. If Spoon can clamp down on Jackson in the passing game, and support Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson defending the run, the Falcons have a real shot at turning the second half into Rams three and out country.
Put the game on Bradford’s shoulders: The comparisons between Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan are not as plentiful as the Flacco/Ice comparisons, but they’re still there. Bradford is putting up huge numbers for a rookie, and is on pace to pass some of Ryan’s rookie stats. His TD/Int ratio is 12/8, and last week we saw Bradford successfully execute a great two minute drill against the 49ers. However, the Rams have no real receiving threat beyond Danny Amendola (52 catches) and Jackson (25). Aside from the 49 yard gain from the screen to Jackson, Bradford’s second longest pass is a 36 yarder, which only travelled 9 yards before a 27 yard gain after the catch by Amendola. From this, it is evident that the Rams have zero vertical passing game. If we can remove the Rams run game, and force Bradford to do it himself, we could see an interception frenzy from our league leading secondary. The Rams are 39 of 120 on third down, so by pushing for third and long and making Bradford convert himself, the Falcons will increase their chance of forcing a mistake exponentially.
I firmly believe we should win this game and, while I felt the San Fransisco game was more of a trap than this, we shouldn’t take the Rams lightly. If we can take care of the games we should win, and come away with a few of the important games (Packers, Saints, Buccaneers), the Falcons are a long way to winning the 13-3, the NFC South title and 1st seed in the NFC (which is, at this point, ours to lose). Come on Falcons, let’s show the Rams that we’re the team to beat, road or not. Finally, be sure to check out dunlagh’s Worst Case Scenario article here. Go Falcons!