In last week's game, QB Marc Bulger connected with starter Randy McMichael for a 10 and a 15-yards pass. Blocking TE Billy Bajema had a 9-yard catch, Eric Butler had a 4-yarder, and Joe Klopfenstein had an incomplete on the play where QB Brock Berlin was injured. Don't read too much into what seems like a forgotten night for TEs. The Rams stuck to a pretty basic playbook, running on 29 of 56 offensive snaps, and the Jets impressive group of starting LBs are a tough matchup. I was a little surprised we didn't Daniel Fells, since he's the lead horse in the race for the third TE spot on the roster.
All of that may change against Atlanta this week. The coaches will probably want to see a little more of the playbook and Atlanta presents a favorable matchup for tight ends. Last season, the Falcons defense posted a 24.7% DVOA against TEs, 28th in the league. Opposing TEs caught an average of 6.7 passes per game (only #1 WRs caught more) for an average of 54.1 yards per games.
That's not likely to be improved this season. Second year MLB Curtis Lofton is their strongest LB in coverage; according to Football Outsiders play charting results, Lofton was successful against 67% of the 15 passes thrown at him. Outside LB Cory Wire, who came on the field against the pass last season successfully defended 51% of the balls thrown his way. New addition Mike Peterson, with Jacksonville in '08, had a 39% success rate and opponents gained an average of 6.8 yards on passes targeting him. At SS, the Falcons have Mizzou's William Moore, who was inconsistent as a senior. Starting FS Eric Coleman had a 45% success rate against the pass.
Last season, when the Rams nearly beat the Falcons in a week 17 upset, the tight ends were quiet, only Klopfenstein had a catch, for 29 yards, on one of Bulger's 19 completed passes. If Klopfenstein can do it... Of course, that game was all about Steven Jackson who rushed for 161 yards on 30 carries (to get his fourth 1,000 yard season) and caught 4 passes for 54 yards. Hmm, think we could see something like that again this week?
And, yes, I realize the weird connection discussing TE play for a team that added Tony Gonzalez this spring. That's a whole 'nother matchup, and I bet we'll cover it in a subsequent post.
For the Rams tight ends, this is a good week to get some action, especially with all three backup QBs getting all the playing time. Remember, Boller has experience connecting with a TE from his days tossing balls to Todd Heap in Baltimore. Expect to see McMichael build on his game last week while Fells and Klop battle it out for the third spot and Eric Butler will want to put his name in the mix too. In practice, the coaches seem to be using Bajema to catch passes more than I thought. See if that trend continues this week.