Last week went exactly as expected.
The New England Patriots, the more prepared and fundamentally sound team, whooped the Los Angeles Rams. Tom Brady and Co. didn’t run up the score on offense, but the Patriots defense—a defense that has been struggling to defend the pass all season—held the Rams offense to a putrid 10-point showing.
The Rams get the Falcons this week. If the Rams could not keep down the Patriots offense, the Falcons offense may do unspeakable things to the Rams defense. Conversely, the Falcons defense is young and inconsistent, which should give the Rams offense, primarily quarterback Jared Goff, a chance to put up some points.
Rams Offense vs. Falcons Defense
Cornerback Desmond Trufant is out with a shoulder/pectoral injury. Trufant was one of two bonafide stars on the Falcons defense, so the absence of either of those players should make for a much easier day for the Rams offense. Even with Trufant in the mix, the Falcons pass defense ranked 23rd in the NFL heading into Week 14, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. The Falcons secondary is not lacking in talent, but aside from cornerback Robert Alford, almost the entire rest of the secondary is comprised of first or second year players. Experience matters and the Falcons secondary, and defense as a whole, doesn’t have it.
In addition to a relatively easy day of passing, the Rams should be able to generate something on the ground, too. Worse than their pass defense, the Falcons run defense is 27th in DVOA. The Falcons defense has a propensity for giving up humongous plays and Todd Gurley has the ability to make those kinds of plays. We have not seen it from him much this season, but if there has been a game this season that is setting him up for a big day, it is this one.
- The Falcons defense operates mostly in Cover 1 and Cover 3 concepts. They have moved away from Cover 1 a little bit since Trufant has been out.
- Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a problem. The rest of the Falcons defensive line, while there is some talent, is not going to be too much to worry about. Jarrett, however, is a shifty, powerful defensive tackle who can move all over the line of scrimmage and penetrate from anywhere.
- Safety Keanu Neal is a hitter. If he catches someone sleeping over the middle of the field, it’s lights out. Be aware of him.
Vic Beastley Jr.
Vic Beasley—or Beastley—is a goddamn freak. He’s “small” for an edge rusher, sure, whatever. It doesn’t matter how “small” Beasley is when he can move, bend, counter and bull rush the way that he can.
As a rookie in 2015, Beasley came out of the gates firing. In his first three games, Beasley racked up two sacks. Unfortunately, a torn labrum got to the young pass rusher and, while he played the remainder of the season, he no longer looked like the explosive, dynamic pass rusher that everyone saw coming out of Clemson. This year has been a revival for Beasley.
Beasley has 10.5 sacks this season. Only two players have more sacks than Beasley: 1) Von Miller, who is the best edge rusher in the game and maybe the best I, personally, have ever seen, and 2) Khalil Mack, who only has a half of a sack more than Beasley, despite having played one more game than Beasley (Mack just played on Thursday night).
On the play above, Beasley displayed two key reasons as to why he keeps getting to quarterbacks. First, Beasley can win immediately. Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has been excellent this year, just got abused by Beasley here. Beasley fires off the ball from a wide position, gets to his landmark, stutter steps to hold Schwartz in his spot, then bends around Schwartz, leading him right to quarterback Alex Smith.
Somehow, someway, Smith wiggles out of the sack. But Beasley isn’t done. Beasley is Predator. As soon as Beasley pops up and realizes the play isn’t over, he sprints over the Smith and pounces on him to force the strip sack.
Passive Cover 3
Without Trufant, the Falcons have been playing more passive than normal. Head coach Dan Quinn likes to play fast and aggressive, but without his best cover guy, it’s hard to do that consistently. To compensate, Quinn has shifted his defense from aggressive Cover 1 to passive Cover 3, and they pay the price sometimes.
I circled all the different coverage assignments with different colors to easily discern which players do what in Cover 3.
The two players in yellow are “flats” players. “Flats” players will read #2 to #1 (#2 being tight end on right side, #2 being inside receiver on left).
Blue players are middle of the field guys. They will both read the running back and tight end, and follow either of them, if necessary. If not, they will man the middle of the field and drop deeper.
Red players are the deep 1⁄3 players. Whereas the yellow “flats” player read #2 to #1, deep 1⁄3 players will read #1 to #2. If both go vertical, the deep 1/3 player will take the inside vertical route, in this situation.
The deep safety, circled in black, hovers the middle of the field. On this play, he is shaded to the strong side of the formation.
The “flats” player and middle of the field player to the strong side of this play are the main culprits. Cornerback Robert Alford (#23) and defensive back Brian Poole (#34) figure out their #1-#2 read just fine, but the strong side middle of the field player fails to carry out wide enough to cover the running back. With the running back having so much room, Poole starts to trail off from Larry Fitzgerald in case the ball goes to the running back, but the little space that Poole gives up is enough for Fitzgerald to get open and haul in a catch.
Rams Defense vs. Falcons Offense
The Falcons have the most explosive offense in football. The Dallas Cowboys can sustain drives more consistently and do a better job of wearing defenses down, but the Falcons can put up a disgusting amount of points in a heartbeat. Julio Jones may be the best receiver on the planet, Matt Ryan has rebounded from a poor 2015 season, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman make for a dynamic running back duo and the Falcons offensive line is quietly impressive. The Falcons offense is a machine, headed by mastermind offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
- Center Alex Mack vs defensive Michael Brockers is going to be a brawl. Both are all-star players.
- When teams run tight and wide zone as well as the Falcons do, it’s hard for the linebackers to read which is which. The Rams could mightily struggle there.
- Tight end Austin Hooper is a quiet playmaker. He isn’t a big name, but he can be a pain.
- Wide receiver Julion Jones LOVES the “dig” route (deep-in) and the Falcons will keep going to it if it keeps working.
Julio Jones Isn’t Like You and I
Quintorris Lopez Jones, who we know as Julio Jones, is from another planet. He’s an alien. Every player in the NFL is an excellent athlete relative to the general public, but Jones is “planet theory.” “Planet theory” is the idea that there are only a handful of people on the planet who are this athletically terrifying.
I mean, what the hell is this? These kinds of numbers at 6’3”, 220 pounds are just mind blowing. Jones is quite literally the best athlete we have ever seen, and may ever see, at the position.
Nobody can cover Jones. Some guys can slow him down, but he can’t be stopped, especially by anyone on the Rams roster.
Not only does Jones get more than enough separation through his route stem, but at the break, he gets the safety to bite inside and completely dusts the cornerback. Other than maybe Odell Beckham Jr., there is not a receiver in the NFL who can run this route this quickly and violently. There just isn’t anyone that athletic.
Note: Jones has turf toe and may not play, and if he does, he won’t be 100%. Even then, he is still a problem.
Kyle Shanahan is Coming For Your Safeties
Kyle Shanahan is going to make you cover deep down the field. If you do, quarterback Matt Ryan will dump off a pass to one of his dynamic running backs. If you do not cover deep and choose to allow the 1-on-1, Ryan and the receiver of his choosing will win. It’s been the Falcons recipe all year.
The Cardinals go man-to-man here, but the deep safety is the trickiest to get a feel for what he was doing. Pre-snap, it looks like he is in a deep center fielder role, but the way that he ends up jumping on an underneath route would imply that the Cardinals were playing a bracket coverage on the slot receiver. Regardless, it left the deep part of the field open for Matt Ryan.
The underneath crosser, deep hash route from the right side and the deep corner route from the left side creating this vortex of reads for the deep safety. Considering D.J. Swearinger, the deep safety, is known for being overly aggressive, it’s possible that he saw the underneath crosser and jumped on it, leaving the two deep routes in 1-on-1. To some degree, both were open, but Ryan saw his opportunity on the corner route and threaded the needle.
I don’t have a clue as to how the Rams are going to stop the Falcons. The Rams defense is good, but the Falcons have the best offense in football, including an offensive line that can do enough to slow down the Rams’ defensive line. The Falcons have too much firepower.
The Rams should be able to put up some points of their own against a struggling, young defense, but they can not win a shootout with this Falcons team.
For what it’s worth: NumberFire has the Rams with just a 28.3% chance to win.