We didn’t have to wait until Sunday to find out who our divisional playoff opponent will be. The Atlanta Falcons held the NFL’s top scoring offense to 13 points Saturday night in Los Angeles, beating the Rams 26-13 to advance to the NFC Divisional Round to play the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Falcons are already installed as 2.5 point favorites over the Eagles, with the over/under at 44.5 points.
One good thing is the game this coming Saturday will be played in 50 degrees F., a relief from the current arctic front besieging the East Coast. There may be some rainy weather to deal with, however.
Popular theory is the Eagles would rather face Atlanta in this round than either New Orleans or Carolina. I’m not sure about that. After a slow 4-4 start to their season, the Falcons have won 7 of their last 9 games. That’s a team that’s hot, and seemingly getting better and better on defense.
Kevin Patra of NFL.com broke down the Falcons win over L.A., pointing out how Atlanta is clicking in all three phases:
1. The Atlanta Falcons didn’t blow a lead this time. Dan Quinn’s team pounced on an early lead thanks to two Rams special teams turnovers and pulled away late on a Julio Jones touchdown catch. Atlanta’s offense wasn’t pretty, and didn’t sport big plays, but moved the chains in the second half to dominate time of possession 37:34 to 22:26. After a season in which he was consistently criticized, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called a wonderful second half at the Coliseum, keeping the L.A. defense off balance. The Falcons powered down the field with Devonta Freeman and pecked away with short passes to dice up the Rams‘ D. A quick screen pass to Mohamed Sanu that went for 52 yards was a marvelous call by Sark, and it set up the game-clinching dagger to Jones.
2. Quinn’s defense deserves much of the credit for the win. The Falcons held Jared Goff to 5.8 yards per attempt and bottled up Todd Gurley most of the night. The MVP candidate bested the century mark, going for 101 rushing yards on 14 carries. But 47 of those yards came on one two-play sequence early in the fourth quarter (those two plays were more than Gurley had on every previous carry combined — 43). Led by speedy linebacker Deion Jones, the Falcons also pinned down Gurley in the passing game. The running back caught just four passes for 10 yards on 10 targets. Gurley averaged more than 175 scrimmage yards in each of his last five games before his 111 Saturday night. With Gurley stymied the majority of the game, the Rams‘ high-flying offense, which scored 29.9 points per game in 2017, was grounded by the Falcons‘ speedy defense.
3. The Rams boasted three special teams players on the 2017 All-Pro team. On Saturday night, the return game let them down. The Rams botched a punt early in the first quarter, leading to a Falcons field goal. Pharoh Cooper, an All-Pro returner, then fumbled a kick return that Atlanta turned into the first touchdown of the game. With both teams starting out sluggish (five straight three-and-outs to open the game) the 10 points off turnovers proved to be devastating for Sean McVay’s team.
4. Breaking News: Julio Jones scored a touchdown! The Falcons‘ No. 1 receiver scored just three touchdowns all season but earned the game-sealing score in this one. Julio ran a drag route behind the line of scrimmage before turning upfield to snag a looping Matt Ryan pass for the TD. Jones beat up Rams corners on a bevy of underneath passes, catching nine of 10 targets for 94 yards. Behind an injured offensive line, Ryan ran a dink-and-dunk offense that proved effective down the stretch, earning points on Atlanta’s first three possessions of the second half to put the game out of reach.
5. Kicker Matt Bryant carried the scoring load when the Falcons‘ offense sputtered in scoring range. Bryant nailed all four of his field-goal attempts, two from beyond 50 yards.
One thing that bodes well for the Eagles is how vulnerable the Falcons offensive line looked when pressured by the Rams’ defensive linemen, especially by defensive tackle Aaron Donald who seemed to be in Matt Ryan’s face on nearly every pass play. Eagles DC Jim Schwartz will be cutting up that tape and showing it to all his defensive linemen this week.
The Falcons’ defensive backs looked extremely effective as a group, and there will be little margin of error for Nick Foles and his receivers in terms of accuracy and route-running. Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant in particular had very strong outings against the Rams.
For your scouting information, here is the current depth chart for the Atlanta Falcons:
|WR||Julio Jones||Justin Hardy||Andre Roberts|
|LT||Jake Matthews||Ty Sambrailo|
|LG||Andy Levitre||Sean Harlow|
|C||Alex Mack||Ben Garland|
|RG||Wes Schweitzer||Ben Garland|
|RT||Ryan Schraeder||Austin Pasztor|
|TE||Austin Hooper||Levine Toilolo||Eric Saubert|
|WR||Mohamed Sanu||Taylor Gabriel||Marvin Hall||Nick Williams|
|QB||Matt Ryan||Matt Schaub|
|RB||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman||Terron Ward||Terrence Magee|
|DE||Brooks Reed||Adrian Clayborn||Takkarist McKinley|
|DT||Dontari Poe||Ahtyba Rubin|
|DE||Derrick Shelby||Courtney Upshaw|
|LB||Vic Beasley||LaRoy Reynolds|
|LB||Deion Jones||Sean Weatherspoon|
|LB||De’Vondre Campbell||Duke Riley||Kemal Ishmael|
|CB||Robert Alford||Blidi Wreh-Wilson|
|CB||Desmond Trufant||Brian Poole||Leon McFadden|
|S||Ricardo Allen||Damontae Kazee|
|S||Keanu Neal||Sharrod Neasman|
|KR||Andre Roberts||Justin Hardy|
|PR||Andre Roberts||Taylor Gabriel|
Do I fear the Dirty Birds from Atlanta? No. Am I concerned that we come out a little flat on offense and Atlanta’s defense gains traction as the game wears on? Yes.