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Opponent Breakdown: What are the Falcons Strengths?

Posted Jan 4, 2018

Rams insider Myles Simmons takes a look at where the Falcons excel in all three phases.

The Rams will take on the Falcons this Saturday for the NFC Wild Card round. Los Angeles won the NFC West to lock up the division and finished with the conference’s third seed. Atlanta won its way into the playoffs with a victory over the No. 5 Panthers last week — entering January as the NFC’s No. 6 seed.

Here’s a look at how the Falcons stack up in all three phases.

OFFENSE

Atlanta has one of the best quarterback-wide receiver pairings in the league with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Part of that has been the health of both players. Since Jones entered the league as a 2011 first-round pick, Ryan has started each and every game for the Falcons. And while some have docked Jones’ touchdown production this season, he still caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards receiving.

“He’s an elite receiver,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said of Jones. “He may be the best – if not one of the best for sure in the league. He’s set all kinds of records already in his career. This year he’s having a tremendous year.”

Aside from his durability — Ryan has only missed two games for which he was eligible in the entirety of his career — Ryan is also one of the league’s most consistent performing quarterback. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, winning the MVP award for his stellar play in 2016.

“When it comes to him, I feel like his resume really speaks for itself,” Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “He’s an MVP quarterback, can throw every single route. He’s a quick decision maker, he knows exactly where to throw the ball and he trusts his receivers.”

Ryan and Jones may be the headliners, but the unit has plenty of weapons. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have combined for 2,106 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns. And Mohamed Sanu also can stretch the field as a wideout, making 67 receptions for 703 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.

DEFENSE

A former Seahawks defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn runs a similar Cover 3-based system in Atlanta as Seattle still employs. That system is all around the league, too, as the 49ers, the Jaguars, and Chargers all have defensive schemes with ties back to Seattle during head coach Pete Carroll’s tenure.

That’s why the Rams are, in some ways, fairly used to seeing what they’re going to be up against on Sunday.

“If you count the Chargers preseason game, it’s seven times we’ve played a similar scheme to this,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “With that being said, they’re all different. Similar principles, but they all are different. The Falcons are much different than previous teams we’ve played in the scheme and do their own little wrinkles to it. So yeah it does help, but at the same time you’re prepping for a completely different team, as well.”

The variations on scheme are only amplified by the differences in personnel. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has come on for the Falcons this season, having recorded 4.0 sacks from the interior of the D-line. And he was excellent against the Panthers last weekend, picking up a sack, three tackles for loss, and a pair of quarterback hits.

“Looking at him, he’s a guy with a high motor,” right guard Jamon Brown said. “He’s a guy that’s shifty and has a lot of big play ability that if you allow him to get started, he can wreck an offense. The biggest thing for us up front is just studying him, learning him, and making sure that each of us individually is ready when we’re matched up with him, containing him. And I think we have a good plan in place, so we’ll be ready.”

And then there’s linebacker Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016. He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury this season, however, which may be part of the reason for the drop to 5.0 sacks in 2017. Still, Beasley had a sack, a tackle for loss, and a QB hit in last week’s victory over Carolina.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Matt Bryant is one of the league’s older players at 42, but he’s been consistent throughout his tenure with the Falcons. He finished at No. 8 this season with 137 points scored, having connected on 34 of his 39 field-goal attempts and all 35 of his extra points. Bryant also has range, having nailed eight of nine field goals from at least 50-yards out.

He was instrumental in Atlanta’s Week 17 victory, hitting five field goals — including a 56 yarder.

Wide receiver Andre Roberts has shown prowess as the Falcons’ primary returner. He averaged 22.6 yards per kick return — with a long of 61 yards — and 7.3 yards per punt return.