Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis: Los Angeles Rams Defense

Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis
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Training camp is just on the horizon, but for now, it is still the “dead period” for the NFL. So what is there to do for fans while rosters are still forming? Continue the analysis of another opponent of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons, of course! We continue this series with the defense of the Los Angeles Rams. For this exercise, we will analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and points of attack of the Atlanta Falcons offense. Let’s get into it!

Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis: Los Angeles Rams Defense

Strengths

We start this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons with the main strengths of this Rams defense.

Numerous Elite Playmakers

The Los Angeles Rams are one of few NFL teams with an elite player on each level of the defense. Starting with the secondary, headlined by Jalen Ramsey. Widely regarded as the best corner in the NFL right now, Ramsey’s ability to play man-to-man and blanket zone coverage allows the defense to be more aggressive in their disguises. The Rams come out in a quarters-shell pre-snap and roll their safeties down to help support the run as they see fit. Ramsey also has a knack for making big plays in run support and the quick passing game. This versatility allows Raheem Morris to use Ramsey as a slot defender when necessary.

Speaking of run support, the linebacker room has a new familiar face for the Rams brass. Bobby Wagner has been one of the best instinctual linebackers the game has seen. Whether reading route concepts or reading blocking patterns, the linebacker has a knack for staying in the right place at the right time. Not saying that they didn’t have good linebacker play before, but with the losses of Kenny Young and Troy Reeder, they had to upgrade at the position. And even with Wagner aging a bit, he is still an elite-level defender.

And, of course, there is the number one player to play right now on the defensive line: Aaron Donald. His ability to command not just double- but sometimes triple-teams opens up opportunities for everyone in the front seven. His ability to beat tackles and guards with speed and power makes him impossible to block one-on-one. With 12.5 sacks and 41 pressures, Donald is, by far, the most disruptive defensive tackle in the league.

Rams Front Five Alignment

Raheem Morris and the Rams attack offenses with a linebacker rolled down to the line of scrimmage almost as a fifth lineman. Of course, this is dependent on the offense’s formation. However, most offenses use either one- or two-tight end sets to add another lineman on the offensive line or cause matchup problems for the defense. The Rams use this fifth player on the line of scrimmage to counter these formations.

The way that the Rams use this “fifth lineman” is integral to how their defense causes matchup problems in their own right. With this extra person on the line, it adds run support to the outside and helps funnel ball carriers back inside. The three defensive linemen, Donald, A’Shawn Robinson, and Greg Gaines, have 70+ PFF grades when defending the run in 2021. This consistency allows guys like Leonard Floyd to focus on pressuring the quarterback and those in the secondary to focus on pass coverage.

This alignment also allows the defense to disguise stunts and blitzes along the line of scrimmage. Whether dropping Floyd or Justin Hollins, who will replace Von Miller, they can hide their intentions on how they will attack the passer up until the snap.

Weaknesses

As we continue this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons, we will discuss the key weaknesses of the Rams.

Multiple Key Departures

After studying this defense, something became clear: There aren’t many weaknesses when discussing this LA Rams defense. However, one potential weakness is the departures that left this past off-season. 

The most notable exit is that of Von Miller headed off to the Buffalo Bills. While Miller was a mid-season pickup, his production in the final eight games (including playoffs) was integral to LA’s super bowl run. His ability to rush the passer and keep quarterbacks like Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Tom Brady uneasy, allowing others on this defense to make plays behind him. Justin Hollins is a good enough replacement on the other side of Leonard Floyd and should allow Floyd to continue to be effective. But it will not be the same as when Von Miller was there.

The exits of Sebastian Joseph-Day (Los Angeles Chargers) and Kenny Young (Las Vegas Raiders) may not seem as big because both seasons were cut short due to injury. However, Joseph-Day has been a reliable nose tackle that can play both A-gaps well. He pushed centers and guards into the backfield, causing chaos for ball carriers. While Young played the inside linebacker position. His core responsibility was second-level coverage for the defense. With him hurt, Ernest Jones and Troy Reeder shared those duties, but neither was quite as effective.

One last spotlight is the going away of cornerback Darious Williams. He goes back to his hometown to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a good complement on the other side of Ramsey and helped play the outside when Ramsey was in the slot.

Points of Attack

The final section of this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons are potential points of attack for the Falcons and Arthur Smith to exploit.

Decisiveness from the QB Position

One thing that stood out when studying teams that had success against this Rams defense was the quarterback play. One game that we will highlight is the first matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams. 

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals spread the Rams defense out with mostly empty and single-back sets. Kingsbury trusted his offensive line to hold long enough to keep Murray upright and throw in rhythm. The first drive showed Arizona that they would not be able to have those long-developing plays, at least not to start. Instead, Murray proceeded to carve up the underneath zones left by the LA defense due to their base quarters shell. Murray and the Cardinals took what the defense gave them to the tune of 20/24 for passes >10 yards for 170 yards. This attack near the line of scrimmage opened up chances later in the game to attack vertically. And Murray delivered. He went 4/6 for 98 yards and two touchdowns on passes beyond 10+ yards.

Couple that with a running game that had Chase Edmonds and James Conner go 30 carries for 170 yards and Murray’s escapability drawing in one other defender as a spy. Arizona was able to keep the defense on the field to the tune of the Cardinals possessing the ball for 10+ more minutes than the Rams.

This decisiveness will be difficult for the Falcons to emulate as they have two new quarterbacks under center going into the 2022 season. Asking them to be as decisive in their decision-making after only a couple of months in the playbook is almost unfair. But it is necessary if they want to win this game.

Avoid Unforced Errors

One of the most cliche examples of “coach-speak” in football, but it rings especially true when playing this Rams team. The Falcons will have to try their best to play “mistake-free football” if they want to win this game. 

What killed the Cardinals in their wild-card rematch against the Rams were unforced errors early on in the game. Kyler Murray forced a ball downfield on third down when he could have hit the first-down dig coming across the formation. Murray then missed back-to-back balls on the next drive. From there, Arizona was playing catch-up against this explosive LA defense. The front seven were then able to peel their ears back and come after Murray, leading to two early interceptions, including one pick-six.

The defense’s best game, according to Pro Football Reference, was their game against the New York Giants. The defensive line terrorized the Giants and their porous offensive line to stifle the run game and make Daniel Jones’ life a living hell. Before the reserves came in mid-way through the third quarter, Jones had 137 yards and three interceptions. His inconsistency with ball placement and processing the defense led to a bad throw % of 25% (Including his garbage time throws against the reserves).

Not to say that Atlanta has to play a perfect game to succeed against this defense. But to re-iterate, the Falcons can not afford to shoot themselves in the foot. Los Angeles was one of the most opportunistic defenses last season. They were 10th in turnovers caused. And with their talent, that is not an aspect that is likely to change anytime soon.

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