Rams vs Falcons: What to Watch For

The 2008 Atlanta Falcons provide a pretty strong model for how to bust out of a franchise slump — capitalize on the things you still do well (run blocking), then make it better (Michael Turner). Go bold in your areas of biggest need (Matt Ryan), and get new blood from old players (John Abraham) as well as new (Curtis Lofton). Oh, and if you have skeletons in the closet (Michael Vick), clean them all out and dump them, no matter how painful.

Suddenly, just two years after a 4-12 season, you have sportswriters talking Super Bowl without a trace of irony. But that’s big picture stuff. The preseason is about small battles — offensive line vs defensive line, receivers vs secondary, QB vs pressure. With that in mind, I exchanged views with Tupac4Congress, the leading mind at the Dirty Bird Blog, about what to look for in tonight’s game.

The Falcons represent the best and healthiest offensive line that we’ll face in the preseason — can the Rams stop the run, and get to the quarterback with any kind of consistency? Last week against the Jets, we showed the ability to stuff the run at least, though Marc Sanchez was barely breathed on as he romped the Jets down the field. And that was against a line missing three of its starters…

How does your offensive line look? Still strong as ever? Are there any cracks that you’re worried about?

Dirty Bird Blog
The Falcons line has no really gleaming weaknesses and our only question mark is former USC Trojan, Sam Baker (#21 pick in 2008 draft). Baker was hurt for much of the season last year but that didn’t matter much with Todd Weiner stepping in. With Weiner retired now, we lose a lot of experience on the offensive line.

Sam Baker blocking for Michael Turner

We get Mike Karney back from his sprained ankle, and get to see him leading the way on blocks for Steven Jackson for the first time. The Rams will be looking to establish a very physical tone, especially with the starters in the first half — and with Kyle Boller as our starting QB, because of Bulger’s pinkie boo-boo. They did well in run-blocking (not so good in pass-protection) last week, MUCH improved from last year. LT Jason Smith and LG Richie Incognito are mauling people in the run game. We want to see that continue.

What are you looking for on defense for the Falcons? How much does John Abraham have left in the tank?

Dirty Bird Blog
I’m looking for Tony Gilbert to do another pick six in the preseason (much like he did to Matt Stafford last preseason game). The Falcons defense needs to get their groove back because we have some tough challenges up ahead in the regular season and we need to be able to do our best in these preseason games.

John Abraham is the catalyst for our defense and he brings over the experience on the defensive side of the ball. Abraham has plenty left in the tank and he will need to give it all because this might be his last shot at a Super Bowl ring.

Well, with Boller at QB there will probably be plenty of balls up for grabs. :/

Looking to the second half, there’s a rapidly growing Keith Null fan club in StL. We’ll be watching to see if he continues to shine under the bright lights. Does he cement a place on the roster, and maybe even start to overtake Boller as the backup QB? Or does he regress?

Who are the hidden guys on the Falcons, the ones nobody else knows about but you guys are excited about?

Dirty Bird Blog
Jerious Norwood gives the thumbs-upI’m excited about Jerious Norwood going underground this year because he is such a fast guy. Another player I want to see in action is DJ Shockley because he reminds me so much of Michael Vick. Shockley has the overall talent to be very good in the NFL, but is always hampered by injuries.

And a bonus question, because I know you’re a big Vick guy — should the Rams have gone after #7? Are they missing out?

Dirty Bird Blog
The Rams missed out on a huge signing and I’m disappointed they didn’t grab Michael Vick. Vick still runs a 4.4 forty time and still shows the skills he had before he went to prison. Now you guys our stuck with Marc Bulger and his pinkie injuries. Didn’t Kurt Warner always have that injury when he was in St. Louis back in the day?

Fortunately, Bulger’s pinkie isn’t nearly as badly broken as Warner’s was. He’s wearing a couple of band-aids, where Warner turned his hand into a gauze-wrapped club.

But seeing that Don Banks at SI just ranked Vick the #2 backup quarterback in football, and Boller #29 (behind Ryan Fitzpatrick!!!), Tupac isn’t the only one sharing this opinion.

We didn’t get into it, but the other big challenge for the Rams will be defending TE Tony Gonzalez. Outside of Roddy White, Gonzalez is the Falcons’ only legitimate receiving threat, and will provide coverage matchup problems for our linebackers throughout the first half. He’s also a ferocious blocker, adding more obstacles to the Rams’ pass rush.

And for more Rams-Falcons reading, check out the pre-game link-o-rama at RamsGab, and a unit-by-unit breakdown at TurfShowTimes.

That’s it. I’ll be live-tweeting as I can through the game, though I’ll be at a serious disadvantage since the game has been blacked out on TV. Maybe I’ll just have to get up off my sorry ass and get down to the game in person! After all, I’d hate to wait until 1 in the morning to see more game-saving heroics from this guy: