If you didn’t watch the Falcons game against the Saints, all you’ve probably heard about is Atlanta’s epic 16-point fourth-quarter meltdown. And rightfully so, there were major mistakes from the coaching staff, Marcus Mariota, and others. However, there was far more good than bad.
The Falcons’ offensive line looked like a totally different unit — due to Arthur Smith’s play calling and design, the infusion of Drew Dalman and Elijah Wilkinson into the starting lineup, and Mariota’s mobility in the pocket. The pass protection was night and day from last season, and the five uglies cleared the way for 200+ yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, the improvement was also tangible. Dean Pees’ defense pressured Jamies Winston all afternoon, notching four sacks, which marks the most in a single game in several seasons and 22% of their entire 2021 total. The Falcons haven’t had a reliable pass rush in a decade, but that’s not all there is to be happy about. Grady Jarrett was as dominant as ever, and the team’s young safety tandem looked extremely promising.
The newly-found Falcons pass rush will be facing a shaky Rams offensive line, a group that allowed 15 pressures against the Bills. On top of that, Brian Allen will miss the game and Joe Noteboom’s status for Sunday is up in the air.
Suffice to say, the Falcons surprised many with their Week 1 performance. However, the same cannot be said for their Week 2 opponent. For the first time in the Sean McVay era, the Rams are under .500. As the defending Super Bowl champions, this is a must-win game for Los Angeles despite there being 15 more games after.
Over the last three seasons, 27 teams have started 0-2 and none have made the playoffs. LA also doesn’t have an extremely favorable schedule. The back half of their schedule comprises of games against the Buccaneers, Saints, Packers, and the strongest division in football — the AFC West.
While it’s a bit reactionary to deem this game a must-win for the Rams, it’s almost unprecedented for a team to start 0-2 and make noise in the postseason. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, all of the pressure is on the Rams. Still, the Rams have a significant rest advantage, a much superior roster, and the Falcons will have to travel all the way across the country; there’s a reason Atlanta is currently 10.5-point underdogs.
All in all, Arthur Smith has to get the message through to his team — all of the pressure is on their opponents; nobody expects the good guys to win. That means Atlanta can play free without the added stress of expectations.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire