The Falcons and Rams are both 0-1 and have something to prove this week. For the Falcons, it’s that their first three quarters of dominant play against the Saints are the essence of who they are as a football team in 2022, and the late collapse was a sobering breakdown that won’t be repeated. For the Rams, it’s that they are not subject to the post-Super Bowl swoon, or less elegantly put, that they don’t stink.
Because the Bills made the Rams look awful. This is hardly a surprise—the Bills are going to make many of their 2022 opponents look like freshly exploded septic tanks—but it was striking just how incapable Los Angeles looked. Matthew Stafford was sacked seven times and threw three interceptions, the Rams managed just over 50 rushing yards, and only Cooper Kupp managed over 40 yards on the day. The Rams’ defense allowed nearly 300 yards through the air, over 100 on the ground, and surrendered too many points, though they at least forced turnovers. It was Sean McVay’s first loss in a season opener, and at its mildest was a reminder that this team has work to do.
None of that has moved the line—the Falcons are huge underdogs—but for Falcons fans and those hoping on the downfall of the Rams, it does create intrigue. Atlanta showed they are capable of playing better football than they did at just about any point in 2021 in the very first game of the season, and they’re getting a team that certainly looks weaker. Will it allow them to pull off the upset?
Let’s look into the matchup a little more closely.
Falcons - Rams Comparison
Let’s start with a couple of obvious facts: The Rams are not going to be this bad all year, and the Falcons’ defensive rankings look worse because of essentially one quarter of awful play.
Judging either of these teams off of one game would be a mistake, but clearly the Falcons were the better team in Week 1, albeit against a lesser opponent than the rams were facing. It is worth noting that the Rams run defense was characteristically pretty solid minus a few mishaps, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons can impose their will on the ground the way they just did with Cordarrelle Patterson against the Saints.
Yeah, though. Rankings aren’t going to tell you any kind of real story about either of these teams this early in the season, so now that we’ve noted them quickly, let’s move on.
How the Rams have changed since the last time
The Falcons, oddly enough, haven’t played the Rams since 2019. That’s two full seasons gone by without seeing a team that morphed into a Super Bowl champion, and as you’d expect, it’s plenty of time for things to change.
The big change—the earth-shattering one—was swapping out Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford, a move that fueled the Super Bowl run. Stafford had languished in Detroit for years, playing well but rarely winning, before the Rams scooped him up and got him to the promised land. Stafford is young enough to have at least a few great seasons left in him—he’s 34 in a day and age where great NFL quarterbacks are playing to or past 40—and even with an arm that’s expected to be sore throughout the year he’s a much better player than Goff.
Obviously, the last time the Falcons saw the Rams, Raheem Morris was on the other sideline. The team’s interim head coach during that rough 2020 season did admirable work holding Atlanta together after Dan Quinn was fired and then jumped over to Los Angeles after not getting the head coaching job I was hoping he’d land. Morris has been a boon for players like Jalen Ramsey, who has gushed about his knowledge, and has mixed his preferences from his time running Atlanta’s defense in with what Brandon Staley had successfully installed in Los Angeles before being hired away by the Chargers. At some point, his success in doing so should be getting him another look as a head coach, but for the moment he’s running a damn good Rams defense the Falcons can’t and won’t take lightly.
The personnel has changed a lot, as you’d expect in a frequently churning NFL. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks are gone, replaced by Allen Robinson and a combination of Ben Skowronek and Van Jefferson. Andrew Whitworth has retired and Austin Blythe moved on, leaving the Rams to find a new left tackle who can offer even half of what Whitworth can. And the defense really only still has Aaron Donald and Taylor Rapp, with Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, Clay Matthews, Cory Littleton, Aqib Talib, and Eric Weddle all either elsewhere or retired. Naturally, the Super Bowl-seeking Rams have mostly replaced those losses effectively, especially on defense with the likes of Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd, but the offensive changes this past offseason in particular have not paid early dividends for the Rams.
This is a drastically different team, in other words, with the only real constants being Sean McVay, Aaron Donald, and Cooper Kupp. I don’t have to tell you that the defending Super Bowl champions are still pretty good, though, even if I don’t expect them to steamroll Atlanta the way they did three years ago.
What lies ahead
It’s hard to know what to make of the 2022 Rams, but I do know it’s dangerous to underestimate them. The 2021 Rams were a better football team—I think that’s as close to an objective truth as you’ll get—and it’s going to take time for big-time playmakers like Allen Robinson and (assuming he’s not cooked) Bobby Wagner to gel in Los Angeles. They still have one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, the most dominant defensive player, one of the most dominant receivers, and a coaching staff justifiably well-regarded for its acumen and ability to adjust. It would be foolish to assume the Rams are going to look like crap again just because we want it to be so, particularly after 10 days to rest and refocus.
That said, they have a lot to iron out. They were stayed in 11 personnel all game, a decision Rams Wire speculates is due to a lack of tight end depth on the roster, and did not find a whole hell of a lot of success doing so, which may mean more variation from McVay against Atlanta. They couldn’t or wouldn’t get Allen Robinson involved, despite Robinson seemingly finding some open looks. This is a bright, well-regarded coaching staff and McVay has never been under .500 in a season before now, so they’re likely to make major adjustments heading into Week 2. They have to figure out a way to ensure Kupp is not their only credible receiving threat, while balancing that with the need to help out a very shaky line by offering
The Falcons, for their part, need to generate pressure on Stafford, hold a relatively pedestrian Rams rushing attack in check, and find balance on a day when Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t likely to take on quite the workload he did against New Orleans or find quite as much success. Remember, the game against the Saints represented his career high in carries (22) and rushing yards (120), and the team barely utilized any other backs or talented targets like Kyle Pitts and Bryan Edwards. None of, minus maybe keeping Darrell Henderson from going nuts on the ground, is all that simple, even if I’m far more confident in their ability to put together a quality game against the Rams than I was a week ago.
If Atlanta can play at its best and take advantage of L.A.’s overreliance on Cooper Kupp and shaky offensive line, they have a genuine shot to hang in this one and perhaps steal it. It will take probably the best overall effort we’ve seen from the Falcons in the Arthur Smith era to do so, because the Rams are not going to be pushovers regardless of how they looked last week.