That's obvious, even before you factor in injuries. Still, as the Falcons showed a week ago against a tough Saints team, they're always in it. Cutting down on a few of the boneheaded mistakes that plagued Atlanta just a week ago makes this a very winnable game, and the Falcons want that win so bad they can taste it. It tastes like mint.
Here's four critical matchups for the game ahead. Be sure to add your own watchable matchups/concern points/clear Falcon advantages in the comments!
Steven Jackson vs. Rams Defense
This is a big one, even removing the emotional aspect that playing one's former team brings to the table. The Falcons need Steven Jackson to attain enlightenment, and then reject it in favor of a horrific display of inhuman violence.
Jackson's versatility is key here. The Rams aren't necessarily an elite run-stopping team, so Jackson should (hopefully) have better success on a per-play basis than he did against the Saints. With the Falcons' strong need to get rid of the ball quickly, expect them to feed Jackson a steady diet of short passes, as well.
If S-Jax can avoid the fluky drops from a week ago, run hard and the line blocks effectively for him, he'll be arguably the most useful weapon on the field for the Falcons. A big game from Jackson will help the Falcons win. Full stop.
Chris Long is questionable, which means the Rams may be without one of their top two pass rushers. Unfortunately, Robert Quinn is good enough to be two men.
Quinn had three sacks just a week ago against the Cardinals after putting up 10.5 in 2012. He's got a dizzying array of pass rushing moves, he's capable of closing the distance to the quarterback in little time and he's very, very strong. Add that up and you've got someone who is more than capable of wreaking havoc on poor Matt Ryan.
The task of stopping Quinn will fall mostly to either Sam Baker or Lamar Holmes, depending on injury. Baker has shown he can neutralize quality pass rushers, but if he's hurting we may get Bad Baker. Holmes has the tools to match up reasonably well against Quinn, but he hasn't shown he's able to use them. If whoever starts can't at least slow Quinn down, the Falcons are going to need to chip all day just to give Ryan time to get the ball out.
This is by far my biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball.
Jared Cook vs. Falcons Coverage
Oh, you say you have an effective tight end? The Falcons will get busy not dealing with that.
To be fair to our guys, they were able to do a pretty decent job of stopping Jimmy Graham just a week ago by throwing a variety of coverages at him, limiting him to 4 catches for 45 yards and one touchdown. It wasn't a shutdown day, but they did a good job of limiting the damage.
Let me bottom line this for you: If Jared Cook has a 100+ yard, two touchdown game like he did a week ago, the Falcons are in huge trouble. Cook is a gifted athlete, but dedicating too many resources to him leaves other guys open and the Rams have more weapons than they did just a year ago. On the other hand, a failure to stop him could mean some easy Rams scores, and the Falcons can't allow that.
Look for them to try clamping down on Cook early and rushing Sam Bradford to try to force errors.
If you want the Falcons' passing attack to succeed, this is a good place to start.
Jenkins is a physically gifted young cornerback with something close to shutdown potential. He's only gotten better since arriving in the league, but he's prone to the occasional error. Even playing disciplined football, Jenkins is going to have his hands full when he's matched up on Julio Jones.
Let me be clear: Jenkins is definitely the best option against Jones. If Julio is reasonably healthy, his dominant physicality, speed and pass-catching ability is going to make him a handful, and if Roddy's limited again, Ryan needs to be looking for him all day long.
What do you think of these matchups?