The Falcons are going to roll into Los Angeles a little banged up, with Jake Matthews likely out and a pair of top receivers potentially missing action. That means less time for Matt Ryan to hang out in the pocket and fewer great options to throw to, potentially.
If you’re missing Julio Jones in particular (and Mohamed Sanu, potentially), though, your options in the passing game are pretty damn depleted. Ryan’s top receiving options besides Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman would be Justin Hardy, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, and Levine Toilolo/Aldrick Robinson, which might be enough against the Rams if Kyle Shanahan gets creative, but is hardly an ideal attack to roll on with. In that scenario, I’d anticipate that Gabriel would draw much more defensive attention, leaving Hooper and Toilolo perhaps the best opportunities against the Rams’ safeties and linebackers.
Fortunately, there’s a solution, one that many fans would have preferred the team lean on a little harder against the Chiefs. That solution is running the football more with Coleman and Freeman, who will be facing the 21st ranked run defense in the NFL as one of the more effective running back tandems in the NFL.
The duo combined for 27 carries, 115 yards, and two touchdowns against a very stout Chiefs front, and the Rams simply can’t bring as much to bear on Atlanta. Aaron Donald is a true menace in the middle of a very good defensive line, but this offensive line has proven adept at opening holes for Freemand and Coleman, and both backs are capable of breaking long gains against a defense that’s not nearly as intimidating once you break past their strong front. Supplemented with an effective short passing game, it should be enough to get the Falcons most of the way to 30 points. Hell, the Saints put up (approximately) a billion.
The Falcons won’t suddenly run the ball 35 times just because Julio Jones is out, but they’d likely be wise to put more of an emphasis on the ground game if Matthews and Julio are both going to miss this one. I’d welcome it.