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Falcons 20, Rams 13: Lessons from a hard loss

It's cheesy, but somebody has to say it: deja vu all over again. Missed  tackles, poor run blocking, passes thrown was a very familiar sight for, a little too familiar, as the St. Louis Rams flopped in their preseason home opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Ok, one more analogy, the curtain came up on the Ed Jones Dome facelift, but things on the field looked exactly the same (huh?).

Lessons learned

You can't be a power running team, if you can't run block

The Rams can run block better this. They did so just last week. Jason Smith struggled to move defenders off the line and open lanes.  At times, it looked like the Falcons linebackers could just sit and wait for the run, with the DL easily tying up the Rams front five. FB Mike Karney was out there, but he's there to burst through the lane and remove LBs. You can't do that if there are no lanes to burst through. 

Everyone's talking about Jason Smith because he's a first round pick, but I'm bothered more by the fact that runs up the middle were such a problem. The Falcons just stacked the box, taking away the middle to an extent. Still the starting three of Setterstrom, Brown and Incognito should have been able to make some room and get to second level better than they did.

When the offensive line gives you time in the pocket, you have to complete passes

If there's a ray of hope in the offensive line's night, it was that did well in pass protection. That might signal that the run blocking can improve, like the grievous errors in pass protection we saw last week that were noticeably absent last night. Boller reminded everyone watching last night of the knock on his decision making. He connected nicely with Laurent Robinson, who already looks to be quite a get for Devaney and Co., but missed some sure things. And was he just getting a game feel for his arm again after shoulder surgery last season, or was he overthrowing receivers like he used to? Bulger looked sharp last week, and you can see the drop off the Rams will face if he's not playing.

Aside from Boller, our receivers look good, not at all like the big red flag they were projected to be. If the running game had been working, they could have had an even better night. I'll be anxious to see what Bulger can do with them. Once Donnie Avery returns, this could be a unit that surprises many...of course, the running game will have to get working for that to truly happen.

Tackling matters

Sounds easy enough, right? Rams defenders missed tackles all over last night, which made the run defense even worse. It wasn't just the rookies either. Veterans like Will Witherspoon (who otherwise had a good night) whiffed. There's another lesson in the run defense's poor showing, and I'm not sure how to put it. Besides some bad tackling, or complete lack thereof, the Rams defense found itself out of position and/or misreading plays. Turner's 43-yard run came between the end and a gaggle of Falcons blockers tying up the front seven. Where was the safety? The CB? Why were they all bunched like that?

Whatever Spagnuolo is putting in the Kool-Aid, the second teamers and beyond are drinking it

The starters may have been a little lackluster, but the guys rotating in and competing for the future once again impressed. Yes, there's the caveat that they are not playing against starters. However, these guys are playing really tight, tough, and mostly mistake free football. I particularly like Larry Grant and David Vobora. Grant had 4 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Vobora had five tackles and continued to look tough as nails. And, hey, how about that sack from Darell Scott? Nicely done rookie.

Cornerbacks need more than speed

Very rarely do our cornerbacks get out run. They got beat time and again by not knowing where the ball was and misreading the receiver. Then, of course, there's just the plain mismatch, like Tye Hill on Tony Gonzalez. Back to the tape guys. 

More later...