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Saturday, September 14, 2013
Three things: Rams-Falcons

By Nick Wagoner

ATLANTA – Three things to keep an eye on as the St. Louis Rams visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon at 1 ET.

On the line.

The Rams have built their defense around one of the league’s best defensive lines. That group came through against Arizona last week with four sacks, including three from end Robert Quinn.

Bookend Chris Long is questionable this week because of a hip injury, but he hasn’t missed a game since entering the league in 2008.

After taking care of business against Arizona, the Rams’ line has a chance for another big game this week against an Atlanta offensive line that sprang many leaks in its opener against New Orleans. The Saints sacked or pressured Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan 12 times, and on Sunday Atlanta could be without left tackle Sam Baker, who is questionable with a knee injury. If Baker can’t go, the Falcons will probably move Lamar Holmes to the left side and plug in Jeremy Trueblood on the right side.

The Rams can greatly enhance their chances by generating consistent pass rush behind the strength of their front four.

“We’re going to have to find a way to get to Matt whenever possible, but it’s easier said than done,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re going to get whatever issues they had last week fixed, I’m sure. We’ll just be prepared to adjust accordingly.”

Tight-end battles.

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez is now in his 17th season creating nightmare matchups for opposing defenses, and in last week's opener he caught a touchdown pass. Gonzalez still has a knack for finding open spaces in zones and is one of Ryan’s primary red-zone targets.

“Over the years, he’s created the matchup problems for defenses,” Fisher said. “[He’s] very, very difficult to cover with linebackers if you’re lucky. Then, he’s got such good size and he bodies you out and keeps drives alive against the DBs. He’s been a great red-zone target all of his career.”

Rams tight end Jared Cook put on a Gonzalez-esque performance against Arizona with seven catches for 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Atlanta will almost certainly make slowing Cook a top priority this week after he abused Arizona linebackers when they attempted to cover him man-to-man.

Should the Falcons choose to double-team Cook, things could open up elsewhere for the Rams. But whether it’s as a decoy or as a top target, Cook and his presence in the passing game will go a long way in determining the Rams' offensive success, this week and all season.

Revving the run game.

In their first season in nine years without Steven Jackson in the backfield, the Rams struggled to find traction in the run game against Arizona. Daryl Richardson was more active than anticipated, carrying 20 times for 63 yards and catching five passes for 33 yards. He’s dealt with a foot injury all week but is listed as probable and expected to play this week.

Richardson’s workload may dip a bit against the Falcons because of the foot and because of the return of Isaiah Pead from a one-game suspension. Fisher said he wants to get rookie Zac Stacy more involved, and Benny Cunningham could also get some work.

Regardless of who is carrying the ball, the Rams must do better than 67 rushing yards on 24 carries this week. Atlanta was stout in stopping New Orleans’ rushing attack last week, giving up just 2.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts.  

"We do take pride in running the ball, and basically we just want to be able to handle it when they throw eight, nine men in the box,” Rams right tackle Rodger Saffold said. “We have some plans for that and we are looking for success out of the run game.”