All week when analyzing the Rams chances in Atlanta, the decision kept favoring the Falcons over one big aspect: experience vs. inexperience.
Atlanta played in the NFC Championship last year; the Rams own the youngest roster in the NFL. On Sunday, three special team pups proved quite costly for St. Louis.
Stedman Bailey (rookie), Ray Ray Armstrong (rookie), and Tim Barnes (2nd year) committed four costly fouls, which started four of St. Louis’ 12 offensive drives at the 5, 8, 11, and 13-yard line.
Football is a game of field position. When five offensive series start inside the 15-yard line, it’s a helluva uphill battle. The offense couldn’t breathe or hear for almost every drive in the first half.
1. The holding penalty on Chris Long — which extended Atlanta’s first offensive drive and led to Steven Jackson’s 8-yard TD reception — was a bad call. The right tackle moved simultaneously to Long stepping into the neutral zone. Should have been a non-call.
2. Brian Schottenheimer must recognize his strengths. The Rams running game is not it. The offensive line never reaches the second level of defenders (linebackers, secondary) leaving Daryl Richardson to navigate his way through defenders three times his size.
Suggestion: rev it up, earlier. Stretch the defense early and often with the deadly burners. A roster including Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Brian Quick should not result in dink-and-dunks. Sam Bradford completed just 19-of-35 passes thrown 5 yards or fewer downfield Sunday, setting a career high in short attempts. So going conservative didn’t even work.
3. I blame Sam Bradford’s second “pick-6” of 2013 on himself. That ball has to go nowhere but in the turf. Eat it. Saints RB Darren Sproles burned the Falcons underneath last week, so Sunday they adjusted by keeping a linebacker on Richardson all game. Throwing to a defenseless, bottled-up player — the starting running back of all — is not smart, and it was the game changing play.
4. When the Rams’ front four are unable to generate pressure, the secondary gets torched. Matt Ryan was 13-of-17 for 209 yards and an 81-yard touchdown to Julio Jones against at least five pass rushers. Harry Douglas continued Cortland Finnegan’s woes and James Laurinaitis was a step behind running backs in the flat. Jo-Lonn Dunbar would be nice to have back.
5. Atlanta contained Jared Cook, so Bradford targeted Tavon Austin 12 times, Austin Pettis 11, and Chris Givens 8. Austin only hauled in six receptions, but two went for touchdowns.
Credit the team for battling back into the game. The defense forced four consecutive punts to begin the 2nd half, and the offense woke up late with a touchdown on their final three series. They never quit, they play, and as their head coach preaches, they let the score take care of itself.
But if they can’t cut down on the drive-killing penalties, the interceptions, and improve the pass defense, the score won’t often leave them on top.
Finally, get Brian Quick on the field. Through two games, he has two receptions. Last week a 16-yard catch and run, and Sunday a 15-yarder of the same. Cornerbacks can’t tackle him and his speed in space creates havoc. Kind of like what Julio Jones did with 182 yards receiving for Atlanta.