Atlanta Falcons Playmakers Who Must Shine Against the St. Louis Rams
After the gut-wrenching loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons need to have some playmakers step up this week against the St. Louis Rams, otherwise they will be in danger of falling to 0-2 for the first time in the Mike Smith era.
Atlanta is going against one of the more underrated offenses in the NFL in St. Louis and the defense will have to carry the team, especially if the offensive line can't hold up against that vaunted St. Louis pass rush.
But when it comes to playmakers, the Falcons need to rely on four of their own this week to turn the tides of the game when it's looking bleak. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Robert Alford will have to be those X-factors on defense while the offense will need to fall on Steven Jackson's shoulders.
One of the biggest impacts against Sam Bradford this week will have to be from the pass rush—specifically from Osi Umenyiora. He showed some impact against the Saints with one quarterback hit and five quarterback pressures on his 35 pass-rushing snaps.
However, he'll have to improve on that against the talented pairing of Jake Long and Rodger Saffold. Umenyiora will have to rely on his veteran experience and a plethora of pass rush moves to win against arguably the best tackle combination in the NFL.
If he can cause trouble on the outside, though, it should open up some lanes for Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry to wreak havoc on the interior. The Falcons pass rush was the best it's been against the Saints last week. Let's hope Osi can help continue the upward trend this week.
Say hello to the new starting strong-side linebacker. Kroy Biermann's new role looks to be defined as a mix between Von Miller in Denver and Clay Matthews in Green Bay. He gets to blitz from everywhere. He has to cover, and he also has play the run effectively standing up and with his hand in the dirt.
In pass-rushing, Biermann was doubled on almost every play. He forced protections to be rolled towards his side and allowed the rest of the line to capitalize on single teams. This led to 12 quarterback disruptions on 40 snaps. While that could have been better, Drew Brees was getting the ball out quickly to overcompensate for his line.
As a run stuffer, Biermann was the same guy that he was last season when he earned a plus-7.3 grade for the season from Pro Football Focus. He earned a plus-1.3 grade against the Saints and was continually setting the edge and shooting gaps to make plays in the running game.
The biggest surprise about Biermann was his coverage ability. While people would expect a converted defensive end to be horrible in coverage, he was extremely effective in going against Jimmy Graham—and also playing a ton of zone.
Biermann was only thrown towards twice, and on those two plays he allowed one catch for seven yards. He also had a play that he broke up; he had to drop to the back of his zone and knock the ball out of the receiver's hands. Biermann will have to duplicate these results against the uber-talented Jared Cook this week.
With Asante Samuel injured and missing the first game due to injury, the Falcons had to rely on second-round selection Robert Alford out of Southeastern Louisiana to be the long-term starting left cornerback.
Unfortunately, he was thrust straight into action this past week despite plans to bring him along slowly behind fellow rookie Desmond Trufant, Samuel and nickel corner Robert McClain. On the bright side, he turned in one of the best games on the entire defense. He was only targeted four times throughout the game.
He played the run well and also allowed just one of those four passes to be completed for a total of 19 yards. Oh, and Alford also wound up with his first career interception and pass deflection on those four targets.
That's not bad at all for someone replacing Samuel in his first game against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. For the Falcons to be in the best situation to win against the Rams, Alford will have to perform at the same level that he did in the opener.
Let's see if he can do that against Tavon Austin and the rest of the talented receivers that the Rams have. If he can continually perform like he did against the Saints, Alford could be a Pro Bowl corner as a rookie. That alone would help the defense make some huge strides.
And the true playmaker who needs to stand up and perform this week is the man who failed in the clutch moments against the Saints last week—newly acquired running back Steven Jackson. The former Ram had 11 carries for 77 yards and five catches for 45 yards.
How many touches should Steven Jackson see versus his old team?
While his total of 122 yards on 16 touches is exceptional, he was still unable to get a touchdown when it mattered most. He also was unable to reach the end zone the entire game. Atlanta needs him to be someone they can rely on in goal to go situations for a potential touchdown.
They also have to dial his number up when they are in that situation. The Falcons have a talent in Jackson that they didn't have last season. He needs to get more than just 16 touches in a game, and he needs to be on pace for at least 250 carries—not the 175 that he's currently on pace for.
But this will change.
And so will the Falcons insistence to pass in the red zone when they see Jackson punch it in a couple of times. Jackson bringing the run game into the offense should also help with the pass rush. Mainly because when you run the ball, you can wear down defensive lines.
And when lines are run down, they don't want to pass rush as hard. In order for this to work, though, the Falcons need to make sure they maximize Jackson's carries and give him some red zone ones.
Oh, and Jackson needs to catch those last second touchdown passes, too.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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