Seven for Sunday: Rams-Falcons preview
• By Jim Thomas
The Falcons have been largely a pass-first team during their current wave of success. But with their offensive line experiencing pass-blocking problems, and marquee WRs Roddy White (ankle) and Julio Jones (knee) listed as questionable, maybe this is a game in which Atlanta gives its new running back — one Steven Jackson — a heavier workload. He had only 11 carries last week. “He’s still rumbling and snorting, and throwing the dreads around,” former Rams teammate James Laurinaitis said. “He’s still got it.”
WHAT ABOUT RODDY?
White has the dreaded high ankle sprain, which he suffered a month ago during an exhibition game. Those injuries can linger and White still isn’t right. The four-time Pro Bowler, who has enjoyed six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, was basically a decoy in the season-opening loss to New Orleans, getting targeted only twice and catching both passes for 19 yards. After missing almost all of the practice week, the nine-year pro is not expected to be much healthier against the Rams.
THE GREAT TONY G
One of the best moves the Falcons made in the offseason was persuading Tony Gonzalez to postpone his retirement for another year. As one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, he will provide a huge challenge for Rams linebackers and their young safeties. “Tony knows how to position his body to really get open,” Laurinaitis said. “He’ll nudge you (to get position). He and (quarterback) Matt Ryan are on the same page it seems like all the time.” Last week against the Saints, Gonzalez caught his 104th career TD pass.
BACKFIELD IN MOTION
Averaging 2.8 yards per carry on the ground, as was the case for the Rams last week against Arizona, won’t get you very far over the long haul. Compounding matters is the fact that stating RB Daryl Richardson came out of that contest with a foot injury, resulting in a limited workload during the practice week. On the plus side, the Rams have Isaiah Pead back following his one-game NFL suspension. Pead could get a heavy workload at running back with Richardson at less than 100 percent. Better protect the football, eh?
Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons are masters of disguise, making this a brainteaser for the young Rams receivers. “They’re very multiple in what they do,” Rams QB Sam Bradford said. “They’re gonna throw a lot of different coverages at us, some different blitz looks on third downs. It’s going to be very important that we play with our eyes. Skill guys, we’ve got to see what they’re showing us pre-snap, but you’ve got to see the coverage post-snap because odds are it’s not going to be (the same).”
The man with the unusual first name has an unusual job for Atlanta. DE Kroy Biermann, No. 71, can be found in a three-point stance and a two-point stance. He plays left end, right end, and occasionally will be seen standing up just behind the Falcons’ defensive tackles. Every now and then you can find him lined up over the tight end in coverage. Rams TE Jared Cook surely is hoping for a lot of the latter. “He’s obviously very intelligent and a high-motor guy,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s a big-play guy.”
Division rivals for 35 seasons (1967-2001), the Rams and Falcons meet for the 77th time. The Rams have played only San Francisco (127), Green Bay (93), Chicago (90), and Detroit (83) more often. The Rams are 11-9 against Atlanta since the move to St. Louis in 1995, but haven’t won in the Georgia Dome since the 2001 NFC championship season. Despite 161 yards rushing and two TDs by Steven Jackson, the Rams lost 31-27 in their last visit, a 2008 contest that ended Jim Haslett’s tenure as interim head coach.