COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Rams face their toughest non-divisional foe this weekend in the Atlanta Falcons, a team many pick to do big things in the playoffs. For the record -- not that anyone particularly cares -- but I picked them to win the Super Bowl this year.
The plethora of offensive weapons the Falcons boast are nearly unrivaled throughout the league. They have a budding elite quarterback in Matt Ryan, the best 1-2 wide receiver combination in Julio Jones and Roddy White, the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL in Tony Gonzalez and former Ram great Steven Jackson in the backfield.
The Rams are 6.5-point underdogs in Atlanta, and rightfully so. But this upstart team could surprise some folks this weekend (and this season).
- The Falcons have Jones, White and left tackle Sam Baker on the injury report this week. Sure, they're all probable, but the fact there's even the slightest bit they're dinged up already plays in the Rams' favor. Cortland Finnegan, who was terrible last week, needs to step up this week and Janoris Jenkins needs to be the good Jenkins.
Other Falcons' players who were either limited in or missed practice this week include defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, safety Thomas DeCoud, cornerback Asante Samuel, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. All of those are impact players who are already dealing with nagging injuries. The Falcons' defense is already a little suspect, so the fact more than a third of their starters are facing injury issues could play into the Rams' favor.
The only significant Ram injuries are defensive end Chris Long and running back Daryl Richardson, who were both limited in practice this week.
2. Robert Quinn and the pass rush
- Quinn had the best game of his career on Sept. 8, sacking Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Carson Palmer three times and forcing two fumbles.
A consensus top-five talent in the 2011 draft, Quinn slipped to No. 14 because of a brain tumor. The Rams pounced on him and now have one of the best 1-2 pass-rush combinations in the league. Quinn had five sacks in his rookie season, 10 last season and is on a completely sustainable pace of 48 sacks this season. Quinn should have a favorable matchup with Baker, who is not usually mentioned among the league's best left tackles.
The Rams' defensive end rotation of Long, Quinn, Eugene Sims and William Hayes is one of the best in the league. And defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers can get pressure on the QB from the interior. The New Orleans Saints' mediocre pass-rush got to Ryan three times last week. The Rams, which tied for the league lead in sacks in 2012 (Denver Broncos), should be able to get to Ryan more than the Saints did.
3. Special teams
- The Rams traded up for wide receiver Tavon Austin in the 2013 NFL draft. He was the best playmaker available in the draft, and he could factor into the game if he gets a chance to return punts.
He was a human highlight reel at the University of West Virginia, but he was rather pedestrian in his NFL debut (to be expected).
The Rams also have perhaps the most underrated kicker and punter in the league in Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker. Zuerlein, like playing at home, will have the advantage of kicking indoors. He was perfect in Week 1, including a 48-yard game-winner. He's easily the best kicker the Rams have had since Jeff Wilkins. Hekker will also have the indoor advantage.
4. Passing game
- I'm not sold on the Rams' running game being legitimate with Richardson getting the lion's share of the carries, so Bradford will have a chance to sling the ball all over the Georgia Dome. Atlanta gave up 341 yards to Saints' QB Drew Brees last week. While Bradford is no Brees, he's coming into his own. Also, Atlanta was 23rd in the league last season in passing yards against. They have a lot of the same players on defense as they did last year.
Bradford's rapport with tight end Jared Cook was apparent in the first game, and that could continue in Week 2 (and throughout the season). But he'll need a wide receiver to step up. It remains to be seen if that happens. If it does, I expect Chris Givens to get behind the Falcon defense and have a big day.
5. No one expects them to win
- The Falcons can't possibly start 0-2, right? The last Super Bowl winner to do that was the New York Giants. But losing means the Falcons would likely be two games behind the Saints (who will probably roll over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
But Jeff Fisher's squad has a lot of talent. It also has a lot of youth. It doesn't know it's supposed to lose. Often an afterthought when talking about the NFC West, the Rams may not be ready to make the proverbial leap this season, but a win in Atlanta would go a long way to helping this team long-term. Honestly, I'm hoping for a competitive game, but don't be surprised if the Rams steal a win from the Falcons on Sunday.
Dustin Nosler has followed the Rams from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Los Angeles Dodgers' blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast and writes about the Dodgers for the Yahoo Contributor Network. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Atlanta Falcons
- Robert Quinn
- Julio Jones
- Roddy White
- Matt Ryan