The last of my three questions for the St. Louis Rams ahead of their second preseason game tonight with the Atlanta Falcons comes back to our defense. There's a reason for that. In case you hadn't noticed, the Falcons have a pretty good offense, from Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and the newly added Tony Gonzalez...it's a tough unit to face, preseason or not.
Tonight, in addition to individual players answering questions about whether or not they belong on the final roster come September, new head coach and defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo and new defensive coordinator Ken Flajole have to show some real gains from a Rams defense that been strictly bottom of the barrel in recent years. We talked about the run defense yesterday, so, naturally, today we have to ask:
Can the Rams control the Falcons passing game?
Gonzo gives Matt Ryan a nice dump off target and a player the Rams will have to constantly account for in the red zone. He's learning the offense, but I doubt it's quite the same as Joe Klopfenstein learning the offense. Roddy White is a true blue number one wide receiver, and Ron Bartell will see plenty of him when the starters are out there. Michael Jenkins was a nice second WR who picked up close to 800 yards last season.
Of course, the Rams intend to control the passing game up front, using the pass rush that you-know-who made famous. In what will sounds like a totally foreign concept to Rams fans, Atlanta QBs were sacked just 17 times last year, for a 3.6% sack rate that was the fifth best in the NFL. James Hall has been the d-line guy everyone's talking about this year, playing all four positions up front similar to the role that Spags used to make Justin Tuck a household name. Hall and Leonard Little wasted no time getting to the Jets QB last week, and with more of the playbook open tonight, it's reasonable to expect more from the Rams pass rush.
Players to watch:
Chris Long - The press has dogged Long some in the early goings this year, and he didn't have a particularly impressive game against the Jets. He was slow off the ball last week, not a good trait for a DE. Will he show some teeth tonight?
Tye Hill - He wasn't horrible last week, but you can bet the Falcons will be looking to throw on him, especially with a physical Michael Jenkins. Of course, all the corners vying for a spot will want to look their best, especially if we see King or Fletcher with the first unit at all tonight.
Chris Draft, David Vobora, Larry Grant - Those guys are in the mix at SLB. Guess who they'll be seeing plenty of tonight (hint: he's a future Hall of Fame tight end). Draft has skeeelz. Everyone else who wants a shot at the job, and they looked solid in recent play, needs to play flawless football tonight.
Game thread coming later. Go out and get a six pack...so you can watch the game on tape delay. Stupid NFL. What the point of blacking out a preseason game?