Atlanta Falcons: What to Watch for This Week vs. St. Louis Rams
Darryl L. Jones 2 hours ago
COMMENTARY | This week the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) will play their home-opener against the St. Louis Rams (1-0), and attempt to get their season back on track after a heart-breaking loss to the rival New Orleans Saints.
Only three teams in the Super Bowl era have rebounded from an 0-2 start to win a championship, so a Week 2 loss to St. Louis would immediately turn the odds against Atlanta. There were quite a few takeaways from last Sunday's loss to New Orleans, and even more things to watch for this week as they head home to face the Rams. Here are three key factors we should watch for this week.
After spending the first nine seasons of his NFL career with the Rams, Falcons running back Steven Jackson will play in his first ever game against the team that drafted him 24th overall back in 2004. When asked how he felt about the upcoming game, Jackson told ESPN's Nick Wagoner, "Of course I want to get the win, but I have to come out there and just remain in the zone, in my focus and not get too up."
Jackson ran the ball well against New Orleans on Sunday, gaining 77 yards on just 11 carries. However, his crucial dropped pass in the end zone in the game's final minute may have left a cloud hanging over that performance.
The Falcons called 42 pass plays Sunday, and only 13 run plays. Naturally, a loss ensued. We should expect the Falcons to get Jackson more carries this week, and if his yards per carry average is any indication (7.0 avg), we can expect a big game from Jackson.
Offensive line woes
Piggy-backing off the last point, the Falcons offense lacked balance against New Orleans. When you have a workhorse back like Steven Jackson, you have to give him his carries. Also, when you have a struggling offensive line like Atlanta has, you can't allow the defense to pin their ears back and constantly rush the passer.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked three times by the Saints on Sunday. He was also hit five times and hurried 16 times. The offensive line's ineptitude really showed on third down, as they only converted 3 of their 11 third-downs attempts.
Things won't get any easier this week as the St. Louis Rams boast a formidable pass rush. One of the best pass rushing duos in all of football is the combination of Robert Quinn (three sacks, two forced fumbles Week 1) and Chris Long, nicknamed the "Thunder Storm" by Quinn. In any event, the Falcons will need to find ways to slow down the Rams pass rush this Sunday if they plan on keeping Ryan healthy. They attempted to run screens against the Saints last week to slow down their rush, but the Saints defense sees way too many screens in practice from Drew Brees and his offense to fall for them repeatedly.
I'd expect them to continue to try the screen game, as well as give Jackson more carries to keep those rush ends honest. Keep an eye on Lamar Holmes and Sam Baker this week, as they struggled mightily against the Saints' edge rushers.
Falcons pass rush
Speaking of pass rushers, one of the more glaring needs for the Falcons this offseason was improving upon the 29 sacks (ranked 28th in the NFL) they amassed last season.
They did get to Drew Brees for two sacks in Week 1, but for the majority of the game, Brees was comfortable and had all the time in the world throw downfield.
The Falcons didn't get much out of their defensive ends, as both of their sacks came from up the middle. Defensive tackle Corey Peters got one of the sacks and was disruptive all game along with his fellow linemate Johnathan Babineaux. There was also a rare Peria Jerry sighting, as he accounted for the other sack.
Free-agent acquisition Osi Umenyiora was invisible for the majority of the day, as his name was only called once for his lone tackle of the game.
Atlanta has to get more from their pass rushers if they expect to take the next step as a team, and get further than they did a season ago.
Expect to see more blitzes on Sam Bradford than we saw on the more poised and experienced Brees.
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