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Keys to Victory: 5 things the Rams need to do to bounce back against the Falcons

The Los Angeles Rams will be looking to bounce back against the Falcons. Here’s what they need to do.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams enter uncharted territory in Week 2. For the first time in the Sean McVay era, the Rams under .500 and sit at 0-1. A loss would put a serious dent in the Rams’ playoff hopes.

On Sunday, the Rams will play the Atlanta Falcons who blew a 16-point lead against the New Orleans Saints. They became the first team this season to lose while rushing for 200 yards. The Rams will need to be on their A-game to get back on track. Here are five keys to victory for the Rams against the Falcons.

1. Protect Matthew Stafford

The Falcons pass-rush wasn’t much to write home about in 2021. Their 29 sacks ranked 23rd in the NFL. For reference, the Rams defense finished with 53.

Against the Saints, the Falcons finished with four sacks which was 22 percent of their entire 2021 total. In the opening half, the Saints had negative two yards passing on ten attempts.

Grady Jarrett showed why he is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL as he recorded 1.5 sacks in the Week 1 loss. His five pressures tied for fifth in the NFL among defensive linemen.

Jarrett will be a handful and be someone that the Rams have to account for on every play. The offensive line allowed 15 pressures last week against the Bills which made moving the ball on offense extremely difficult. Sunday will provide its own challenge as the Rams play musical chairs on the offensive line. Tremayne Anchrum will get his first run at right guard and Coleman Shelton will move to center in response to Brian Allen’s knee injury. Joe Noteboom is also questionable.

Atlanta’s sack numbers were better than their overall pass rush numbers last week as they ranked just 20th in pass-rush win-rate at 39 percent. Still, the Rams will need to protect Stafford, specifically when it comes to the interior offensive line.

2. Contain Cordarrelle Patterson

The Saints defense has been considered one of the better units in the NFL over the last two years. They ranked eighth in the NFL in run-stop win-rate in 2021 and their run defense EPA per play of -.157 led the NFL.

It may be surprising then that Patterson had 22 carries for 120 yards in Week 1. Combined with Marcus Mariota, Avery Williams, and Damien Williams, the Falcons had over 200 yards rushing.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith does a great job designing plays in the run game. Derrick Henry’s best season came under Smith when he was the offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans.

In Week 1, the Falcons run game ranked eighth in DVOA. Prior to their fourth quarter collapse, their rush EPA per play of .096 ranked sixth.

This is a run game that needs to be respected and is led by one of the more dynamic players in the league. Among running backs with at least 15 carries last week, Patterson’s 0.24 rush yards over expected ranked fourth in the NFL.

With a dynamic quarterback in Marcus Mariota and playmaker in Patterson, the Falcons are able to show a lot of variety in the run game. The Rams defense will need play disciplined to stop it.

3. Find a Second Option in the Pass Game

Of Stafford’s 240 yards in Week 1, Cooper Kupp accounted for 128 of them. Out of Stafford’s 29 completions, 13 went to Kupp.

Yes, the Rams want to get the ball into the hands of their best player. With that said, they also need to get other players involved in the passing game. The Rams could be without Van Jefferson again this week as he missed practice on Thursday.

Without Jefferson against the Bills, the Rams struggled to find a second option in the passing game. The closest wide receiver to Kupp was Ben Skowronek who had over 100 fewer yards.

Whether it’s Allen Robinson, TuTu Atwell, or even Tyler Higbee, the Rams need to find an option behind Kupp. Part of Stafford’s insistence to target Kupp in Week 1 could have been due to the pressure he faced. With that said, Sean McVay and co. will need to scheme open other players in the passing game.

4. Get Creative Running the Football

If the Rams can’t run the football against the Falcons, it might be time to get concerned. The Falcons defense ranked dead last in the NFL in run defense DVOA last week as well as run defense EPA per play.

Taysom Hill isn’t your typical weapon, but he had four carries for 81 yards in Week 1. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for 13 carries for 61 yards as well.

Going back to last season, the Rams have struggled running the football. The running game ranked 12th in DVOA at -3.9 percent in 2021 which was also the second-worst in the McVay era.

Whether it’s getting TuTu Atwell involved in the run game on jet sweeps or running more side-to-side to get the offensive line on the move, the Rams need to get creative.

Rams running backs struggled finding any room in the run game last week and that starts up front. The Rams offensive line created just 2.74 adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders which ranked last. To add to the struggles in the run game, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on 31 percent of their carries against the Bills. That number ranked 30th in the NFL.

This is all a small sample size and based on just one week of football. However, struggling against the Falcons wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the season. The solution could be playing two tight ends or putting in a sixth offensive linemen. Whatever it might be, McVay has a problem to solve and needs to figure it out quickly.

5. Find the Winning Recipe

Last week the Rams came out and looked disconjointed on both sides of the ball. The offense struggled to get anything going and find any sort of rhythm. While the defense forced four turnovers, the Bills went 9-for-10 on third down.

In Week 1, the Bills came out and knew exactly who they were going to be. Meanwhile, the Rams came out and looked lost at times. Outside of plays to Kupp, nothing seemed to work offensively. The run game went nowhere, the offensive line looked out of sync, and Stafford didn’t seem to be on the same page as his receivers.

When the offense is built around spreading the defense out and looking for plays down the field, that’s not a good combination.

On defense, the Bills had four explosive plays through the air that included two plays of 40 or more yards. This was very uncharacteristic of the defense last season. This is a group with an ethos limiting explosives.

Losing in the fashion that the Rams did last week isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Green Bay Packers got blown out by the Saints last season. The 2003 Patriots lost 31-0 to the Bills to open their Super Bowl campaign.

The key here is that both those teams bounced back in a big way the following week. The Rams need to do the same against the Falcons and that starts with finding their identity.