Falcons vs. Rams: Who’s Atlanta’s Biggest X-Factor Against Los Angeles?

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The Falcons and Rams are meeting in Los Angeles as the pair come off excruciating Week 1 losses. However, not all losers are made the same. LA was embarrassed in the NFL’s season opener last Thursday night by the Bills. At the same time, Atlanta dominated the Saints for nearly three quarters before collapsing and surrendering a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. The Falcons are heavy underdogs traveling across the country with much less rest than the Rams, as the opening line favored Los Angeles by 10.5 points. Here are Atlanta’s biggest x-factors, one offense and one defense:

Offensive X-Factor

Marcus Mariota

The Bills moved the ball at will in Week 1, outgaining the Rams 413 to 243. Josh Allen looked like the MVP, pacing Buffalo in rushing yards and throwing for 297 yards and three scores. Much like last week, this week’s offensive X-Factor will be the Falcons’ signal caller.

Arthur Smith showed flashes of brilliance against the Saints with Mariota under center, effectively deploying designed quarterback runs and rollouts, which Smith couldn’t really do with Matt Ryan. Mariota’s mobility added a different dynamic to the Falcons’ offense, and it paid dividends for the offensive line, who only surrendered one quarterback hit — the fewest in the league in Week 1. That is due to Mariota’s elusiveness, improvement at center and left guard and Smith’s play calling and design.

Mariota had a more than respectable stat line against New Orleans — 60.6% passing, 215 yards through the air, 72 on the ground, and one touchdown. The key difference has to be Mariota protecting the ball. He lost a fumble at the Saints’ 5-yard-line in the third quarter while also botching a snap on the third and one in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a punt and a Saints drive ending in a game-winning field goal. He’ll need to eliminate those mistakes.

Defensive X-Factor

Grady Jarrett

Many of the Rams’ issues from Week 1 stem from the offensive line. LA had just 1.9 yards before contact on running plays and allowed over a 30% pressure rate on Matthew Stafford — both ranking in the bottom-ten for Week 1. In their blowout loss to the Bills, Los Angeles suffered injuries to an already weak unit. Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom went down; the former will be out for Sunday’s matchup, while the latter will likely be healthy enough to play. And bad news for Sean McVay’s offense; Grady Jarrett was nearly unstoppable against the Saints in Week 1.

The Atlanta defense recorded four sacks against New Orleans, and it’ll take another herculean-type performance from Jarrett to repeat that success. He took more reps from the 0- and 1-technique but moved around the line of scrimmage all game, and the veteran defensive lineman had a vintage performance, reminding everyone he’s still one of the best in the game.

Photographer: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire

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