Saturday, September 18, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

For the second consecutive week, the Rams will face a team in transition. While Arizona spent its offseason getting used to new coach Dennis Green, Atlanta was warming up to new coach Jim Mora Jr.

After beating Green’s Cardinals 17-10 in the opener, St. Louis travels to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday at noon. Atlanta is also 1-0, beating San Francisco 21-19 in its first game.

Mora replaced Dan Reeves and then Wade Phillips, who coached the final three games, after a 7-9 campaign in 2003. The Falcons named Mora head coach and Executive Vice President on Jan. 9. Although Atlanta’s players aren’t too familiar with Mora, St. Louis certainly is. Mora comes to the Falcons from San Francisco, where he was the defensive coordinator for the past five seasons.

That time with the ***** gives the Rams a working knowledge of many of the things Atlanta will attempt to do. For example, during last season’s San Francisco-St. Louis game in San Francisco, the ***** threw zone blitz after zone blitz at the Rams on their way to a 30-10 win.

St. Louis began to adjust at halftime and quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 378 yards, but he was sacked five times and the Rams rushed for only 9 yards. At the time, Mora said San Francisco’s defense was finally faster than St. Louis’ offense.

Mora laughed about it in good nature when asked about the comment.

"Don't bring that one up," Mora said, jokingly. "I saw that in the paper this morning and I said. 'Ah, I know they are going to ask me about that one.' I don't think they need that quote out of me to get motivated."

Mora is probably right. The Rams have plenty of motivation for the meeting with Atlanta, without thinking about something that happened when Mora coached elsewhere. Going to 2-0, winning its first road game, continuing to run the ball effectively and playing solid defense again is just some of the motivation St. Louis has.

Rams’ coach Mike Martz said he didn’t take offense to Mora’s comments.

“I think they were a lot faster than what they have been,” Martz said. “When he made that comment, they had improved their defense significantly.”

Besides, Mora is playing with a different hand. He takes over an Atlanta defense that finished last in the NFL in total defense in 2003. There is some talent on the Falcons’ defense, but they are switching to a more common 4-3 defense from a 3-4.

Mora’s defense will get a big test this weekend on the fast track at the Georgia Dome. The Rams rolled up 448 yards against Arizona with a dominating performance from the offensive line and a punishing running game.

The Falcons had plenty of problems with St. Louis’ offense last year when the Rams rolled to a 36-0 win on Monday Night Football. The Rams had 496 yards in a game that was never close.

Atlanta attempted to boost its defense in the offseason, adding cornerback DeAngelo Hall with the eighth pick in the draft, cornerback Jason Webster from San Francisco and defensive tackle Rod Coleman from Oakland.

Martz said he could see potential for Atlanta’s additions on defense to help it improve.

“I think it can be very fast,” Martz said. “I love the way their linebackers move. I like their linebacking crew a great deal. They move around a great bit. I think Jim does a good job with their defense, in terms of making it hard on you offensively.”

The additions helped some in week one, but the Falcons still allowed the ***** to gain 359 yards.
Mora said he looks forward to the opportunity to try to devise ways to stop a Rams’ offense that has dominated for the past five years.

“I’ve always had so much respect for Mike Martz and the way he calls a game, in terms of staying aggressive,” Mora said. “It really presents the ultimate challenge to you as a defensive coach. On one hand, you dread having to go into a dome and play those guys, and on the other hand, if you are a competitor, you look forward to it, because it’s the ultimate challenge.”

Mora’s ultimate challenge is coming to Atlanta, coincidentally that challenge is coming…fast.