Week 11: Falcons (7-2) at Rams (4-5)
Nov 21, 2010 3:00 CST
The Atlanta Falcons played like older brothers to the young and growing Rams on Sunday -- they showed the Rams how to play, then beat them at their game. For all the talk of the Falcons being a model franchise for the Rams to pattern themselves and their game after, on the field it was a matchup between unequals; the Falcons simply dominated the clock on offense, limiting the number of chances Sam Bradford and the Rams had to pull off an upset. Consider these numbers a brief portrait in inequality:
- Despite averaging the same yardage per play (5.6), the Falcons ran 70 plays, the Rams ran 54.
- The Falcons held the ball for 35:55, the Rams only 24:05.
- Despite bringing every kind of rush imaginable, the Rams got only 2 hits on the Falcons' unflappable quarterback, and zero sacks, on 39 dropbacks. (The Falcons hit Bradford only once that was tallied on the stat sheet, and also amassed zero sacks.)
- Most damningly, the Falcons converted 9 of 17 tries on third down; the Rams converted just one of ten.
The resulting score -- 34 to 17 -- doesn't reflect the closeness of the game's first 45 minutes, as the Rams and Falcons traded punches like a couple of seasoned division rivals, rather than a pair of teams who meet once every three or four years. But in the final 15 minutes, the student finally faltered in front of the master, as Sam Bradford's NFL rookie record number of 169 consecutive pass attempts without an INT ended on the Falcons 2 yard line. In the span of a moment, the Falcons 9-point lead transformed from yet another challenge to write into the Story of Sam Bradford, to an impossible distance to be written in this game's epitaph.
Thus ended the Rams' last best hope of staying in this one; a final eight points were tacked on as admonishment from the master to the pupil, saying in effect, "This is the NFL. When you get scoring opportunities, stop messing around and score."
More observations after the break:
Pass attempt number 170 should never have been drawn up, let alone attempted. Sam Bradford had pinballed his Rams down the field in a classic hurry-up offense, hitting targets on all sides and lighting up the crowd, rallying against a deficit that had grown to nine points, largest by either team at that point in the game. The young master was seven for seven on the drive for 54 yards and scrambled for 17 more, moving the sticks from his own 23 to the Atlanta 2, before finally misfiring. An innocuous incompletion over the head of Brandon Gibson extended his still-growing streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception to an NFL rookie record 169.
Inexplicably, though, Pat Shurmur went cute with a shovel pass intended to flutter through the scrum to a crossing Michael Hoomanawanui ... what, the Tim Tebow jump-pass gimmick was too 2009? The route never got close to being completed, and like a lucky bachelorette catching a bouquet, William Moore was the lucky one in a crowd of would-be Falcons defenders who got his mitts on the free ball.
Everyone now: "Why didn't Steven Jackson get more touches?" In all honesty, I didn't mind the Rams gameplan taking the direction it did. I would have liked to have seen more creativity to get the ball in Steven's hands in the passing game, but Bradford was making a concerted effort to get his WRs involved, knowing that he'd need them to move the chains. Thus, Brandon Gibson and Laurent Robinson combined for 21 looks in the passing game, while Jackson got a mere 14 touches, only 11 of which were carries.
The stat within the stat? Jackson had 13 of the Rams first 33 plays (a numerically significant 39.39%); but once the Rams fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter, Jackson got his hands on the ball only once in the game's final 21 plays. If the Rams had given him the ball on the 2, perhaps the entire tone of the game would have changed, and he might have seen significant action in an attempt to control the game's final drive. However, there's a reason he didn't get the call there...
- The Rams continue to be bedeviled by short-yardage failures in the run game. Before this game, Jackson's splits in short yardage situations have not been pretty. Eight times, including today, he has been given the ball on third down with less than three yards to go. Only once, by these stats, have the Rams broke him through for a first down. Peria Jerry blew him up at a critical juncture at the end of the first half of this game, leading a penetration that collapsed the entire left side of the line. For whatever improvements the Rams have made in their offensive line, they seem more fully realized in pass protection than they do in the run game. (Sitting John Greco each week doesn't help.)
The Rams' defensive stars did not shine brightly. Chris Long and James Laurinaitis had as quiet a day combined as I can remember in their two years of playing together. Both were effectively neutralized by the well-prepared Falcons squad, and the coldly efficient Matt Ryan. Any time Laurinaitis nosed into the line, Ryan calmly directed the play in the opposite direction, forcing him to chase. And Long got nearly erased by the Falcons' right tackle, Tyson Clabo. He had help at times, but in several one-on-one matchups, he seemed to draw Long up into his mammoth body like a black hole dressed in white, erasing any drive, leverage, or escapability from the smaller DE.
Meanwhile, a bend-but-don't break mentality kept Roddy White from making many big plays, but couldn't prevent him from catching 9 of the 11 balls thrown his way, and turning each of them into consistent positive gains setting up first downs or easy conversions. While Michael Turner had a cosmetically nice run at the end of the game (when the Rams D simply failed to line up and play), he was held in check for most of the afternoon.
- For all the message board griping about him in the last week, the Rams are lucky to have Brandon Gibson. The young receiver made a fully grown-up play, extending for a brilliant touchdown grab in the back corner of the end zone to give the Rams a 17-16 lead and their last points of the game. The play of the receivers in general today was strong, as Laurent Robinson showed up early, Hoomanawanui made some clutch grabs (including a touchdown score on a brilliantly designed rolling dropback and throw against the grain), and all Danny Amendola did was catch anything thrown his way. (Two misplays on special teams clouded his day, though.) This isn't a talentless bunch that needs to be cut and reevaluated. They simply need one big target to separate from the rest, and let the rest work in the complementary roles in which they could excel.
The Rams will come back to this game often as a teaching moment, both looking at their own play, and examining the blueprint laid out by their superior opponents. While the loss still stings, this is one to build on.