After a late fourth quarter come back win in Week 1, the St. Louis Rams will be looking to extend their record to 2-0 on the season as they travel to see old friend Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons.
It will be an emotional game for both sides as the Rams hook-up with their old friend and the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
But there is more to this game then just that. The Falcons are coming off a season-opening loss to New Orleans and a team with Super Bowl aspirations certainly does not want to start the season 0-2.
This should serve as a great measuring stick for the Rams, who come into the game as an underdog. Going on the road against a talented, veteran and hungry team like Atlanta will be a test. Here are five things to watch this afternoon.
1. Can the Rams stop Steven Jackson?
All eyes will be on the match-up between Jackson and the Rams front-seven. Jackson will be looking to stick it to the Rams and the Rams will be looking to show that they do not necessarily need Jackson any longer. It should be interesting between the trenches. Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers will need to have a huge game and obviously James Laurinaitis will need to be busy making tackles. I think the Rams hold Jackson under 100 yards, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him punch in at least one score in this one.
2. Will the Rams stay disciplined?
With a lot of attention heading Steven Jackson’s way, the Rams will need to remember to stay disciplined because if they are too aggressive in their pursuit of the veteran, another aging legend may kill them too. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is a master at the play-action pass and his favorite weapon over the middle is Tony Gonzalez.
Will Alec Ogletree be able to recognize it and cover Gonzalez? Will the Rams safeties stay home and not bite on the run fake? If the Rams are going to win this game, they will have to cover the middle of the field and contain Gonzalez as well.
3. Will we see more of Zac Stacy?
Rams running back Daryl Richardson ran the ball 20 times in Week 1 with fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy touching it just once. Stacy has to figure to get the ball more often going forward, as Richardson was slightly banged up.
It makes sense to get Stacy involved in the run game. He is a bruiser and could, at the very least, soften the line of Atlanta with a couple of carries before letting Richardson take back over, with fresh legs, to take advantage of an Atlanta defense that just got done dealing with bringing down a bowling ball.
I like the one-two punch capabilities of this tandem and hope that Stacy gets a few more looks, starting this week.
4. Can Chris Givens get vertical?
The Arizona Cardinals did an outstanding job of keeping Givens contained last week. But the Falcons do not have a corner back as talented as Patrick Peterson. Asante Samuel can still play, but can he keep up with the youthful Givens?
I think the Rams will try and press the coverage deep early in this one and Sam Bradford will look towards his favorite deep target Givens. If they can connect, the Rams offense should benefit from softer coverage underneath, which would provide more room for tight end Jared Cook and rookie slot receiver Tavon Austin.
5. Can Sam Bradford take the next step?
Bradford has looked really good this year throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Many believe this is a make-or-break year for the former No. 1 overall pick. If that is true, then this is a game that can go a long way in helping make Bradford’s year.
He obviously will need to play well for the Rams to win this one and he certainly can. He looks way more comfortable than he ever has before, has developed his ability to read defenses and get the ball out and his feel for the pocket has improved that he is able to extend and make plays with his legs.
Prediction time: Bradford should play well on Sunday afternoon against Atlanta, but the Falcons are good. Really good. I think the Rams come out and make this possibly the most entertaining game of the season and turn some heads around the league and prove they are for real.
But I still think Atlanta takes this game in a nail-biter and that it will come down to the closing seconds. The Falcons are at home, they can not afford to go 0-2, and they get this done. Atlanta 27 St. Louis 26
Enjoy the game.
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