The Falcons were better than the end result suggested on Sunday against the Saints, even if they made quite a few familiar and disappointing mistakes en route to a loss. That has caused some fans to warm up to the idea of an upset on the road in Los Angeles against the Rams, the defending Super Bowl champions, because they are fresh off a truly ugly loss to the Buffalo Bills.
For reasons we’ll cover in more detail in the coming days, this is probably a bad idea. One thing is clear, though: If the Falcons are going to pull off some kind of West Coast miracle, they’ll have to take advantage of a truly significant weakness on this Rams team: The offensive line.
It’s difficult to overstate just how bad the line was for Los Angeles in Week 1. Matthew Stafford was sacked seven times by a ferocious Bills pass rush, and per Pro Football Reference was pressured 15 times, or 30% of his dropbacks. Only one Rams offensive lineman received even a halfway decent pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, and that was right guard Coleman Shelton, who is shifting to center this week with the injury to Brian Allen. Starting guard David Edwards had a pass blocking grade of something like 6.5, which is rock bottom Jalen Mayfield territory. Whether Matthew Stafford had anyone to throw to besides Cooper Kupp is almost besides the point, because he certainly did not have a lot of time to find them.
It was, in summary, very bad. For Falcons fans, maybe, a familiar level of bad.
Best estimates for sacks prevented (or caused) by QBs and team blocking. Based on play-by-play time to pressure.— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) September 13, 2022
Herbert prevented more than 3 sacks, but had poor blocking.
Burrow's 7 sacks were more about him than blocking, plus he dropped back to pass 66 times pic.twitter.com/GjHY8DShlr
It’s possible that between Shelton shifting, Tremayne Anchrum moving into the lineup at right guard for his first NFL start, and Alaric Jackson potentially replacing an injured Joe Notebook at left tackle and making his first start, the Rams could have three new starters this week after putting together one of the worst performances in the league. This line misses Andrew Whitworth badly, and compounds the problems the Rams are having with Stafford seemingly not being quite 100%, non-Cooper Kupp weapons not finding much success, and a ground game that just wasn’t all that effective. Any one of those issues could slow this Rams team down, but in combination with the line falling apart, they were absolutely fatal to the effort against Buffalo.
The Falcons are not the Bills—not yet!!!—but they have to try to emulate the way Buffalo beat the Rams. Aaron Donald and company will make life hard on a surprisingly quality offensive line, and it’s going to be on the Falcons’ defense to ensure the Rams don’t score gobs of points. Being able to prevent Stafford from getting into a rhythm will be critical there, and the Falcons are fresh off a game where they had Jameis Winston off-balance for much of the day. Winston, of course, is playing behind a much better line, but it did not stop Dean Pees from dialing up effective pressure, or Grady Jarrett from being a wrecking ball as he so often is. As D.J. Shockley noted in his film review, the Falcons had an encouraging amount of success rushing four against the Saints, and they should be able to replicate some of that success against the Rams.
The Rams are not invincible, but I think we all know the Falcons will need to hope they aren’t particular sharp to carry the day here, even so. Sean McVay is unlikely to be so off-balance again, the Rams have plenty of time to rest up and correct mistakes, the Falcons likely can’t bring the same level of consistent heat that Buffalo can, and the late wilting is something Atlanta both has a nasty habit of doing and will prove fatal here. Still, given that the line almost certainly will be a liability for Los Angeles, Atlanta has a clear path to a competitive day or even possibly a win if they can take advantage of that and put the brakes on this Rams offense.