It seems like the Falcons offense has been continually tested this year, going against numerous top-10 defenses. It’s somewhat impressive that they still have one of the most potent offenses in the league, even after facing so many of them. They will be tested again when they face off against an under appreciated Rams defense. The Rams are no pushovers, and Falcons fans should keep that in mind before they start predicting blow-outs. Here’s how the two units seem to match up.
Note: player performance evaluations are derived using PFF 2016 scores.
In the Trenches
The Falcons offensive line has done a very good job this year as both a run blocking and pass blocking unit. The addition of Alex Mack has helped elevate the play of the guys around him. Andy Levitre has bounced back nicely while Chris Chester qualifies as barely serviceable. Ryan Schraeder has earned his 5 year extension, showing that he’s one of the best right tackles in the league. Jake Matthews has been very good in pass protection, but his availability for the game is in question. If he’s unable to go Tom Compton is competent in the running game, but is a liability in pass protection. The health of Matthews will be important for the passing game. If he’s unable to go, the Falcons may need to lean heavily on their running game on Sunday.
The Rams have a defensive front seven that has some phenomenal players, but also has some liabilities. Aaron Donald is not only the best defensive tackle in the league, but is arguably the best defensive player period. He’s utterly dominant and often beats double-teams to get into the offensive backfield. He’s terrifying. Next to him is Dominique Easley, who is playing decently this year. Robert Quinn is still a fantastic pass rusher, but his health is in question for Sunday’s game. Eugene Sims is not nearly the same player on the edge and the same can be said for their other DE Ethan Westbrooks. William Hayes is a decent player on the edge, while Michael Brockers is a quality player when he’s rotated in. At linebacker, Alec Ogletree is a decent player who hasn’t quite lived up to his draft position. Mark Barron struggles against the run, but is solid in coverage while Cory Littleton is an undrafted rookie who plays like one.
On paper, this match-up would appear to favor the Falcons, but the health of Matthews is highly concerning. Additionally, Aaron Donald is a game-changer and counter-balances almost everything. Even still, I think the Falcons get the edge, even if it is an ever so slight one.
The Skill Positions
The Falcons will come into this game banged-up at the skill positions. Matt Ryan is coming off his worst game of the year, but is otherwise having an All-Pro caliber season. Julio Jones has turf-toe, but it sounds like he is still expected to play on Sunday. Even if he’s only 80%, he’s still an incredible weapon that will demand attention. Mohamed Sanu has turned out to be a good possession receiver, but it’s not looking like he’ll play. In his place will be Taylor Gabriel, who is arguably one of the fastest players in the NFL. He’s a play-maker and could be a difference maker on Sunday. At tight end, the Falcons have Austin Hooper - who is still learning the NFL game - and Levine Toilolo who literally scares no one. The Falcons do have a formidable running back unit in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman is a fantastic runner who does well in the passing game, while Coleman has homerun speed, but struggles with his balance.
The Rams corners will have their hands full on Sunday, especially if Julio plays. Trumaine Johnson has been average this year, but has been up and down since he came into the league in 2012. E.J. Gaines is having a very bad year and could be a consistent target in the passing game. In nickel sets, Lamarcus Joyner has looked pretty good and appears to have gotten better every year he’s been in the league. Safety looks a bit better for the Rams, with free safety Maurice Alexander playing well this year and T.J. McDonald also playing well in coverage.
Normally, this type of match-up would heavily favor the Falcons. However, the health of Julio Jones could be an issue. If he’s not healthy enough, this offense can struggle. Guys like Gabriel, Freeman and Coleman will need to step up if that’s the case. Even still, it appears the Falcons get a slight advantage due to some underwhelming corner play by the Rams.
Ignore records when considering this match-up. The Rams have some good players on D, with Aaron Donald being a nightmare for any offensive lineman in the league. Their corners may not inspire confidence, but they have competent safety and linebacker play. Much of the Falcons success will depend on the health of guys like Julio Jones and Jake Matthews. This is actually a closer match-up than many fans may realize, but I still think Atlanta gets the edge here.