Rams vs. Falcons: Takeaways from St. Louis' 31-24 Loss to Atlanta

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 15, 2013

Rams vs. Falcons: Takeaways from St. Louis' 31-24 Loss to Atlanta

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    The St. Louis Rams (1-1) traveled to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) and suffered a 31-24 loss—their first of the year. 

    The Rams sabotaged themselves early in the game, allowing Atlanta to take a 21-0 lead by the second quarter. The Falcons entered halftime with a comfortable 24-3 lead. 

    The Rams showed some life in the second half by scoring touchdowns on back-to-back drives, which helped cut the deficit to just seven points. 

    Atlanta regained a 14-point lead with the help of a Jason Snelling touchdown, but the Rams answered back with a Tavon Austin touchdown, once again helping to bring the deficit to seven points with just under three minutes in the game. 

    In a somewhat questionable move, the Rams decided to kick away rather than attempting the onside kick. The St. Louis defense failed to get the stop, and the Rams could not get the ball back in quarterback Sam Bradford's hands. 

    The Rams showed life in the second half, but Atlanta's early-game rampage put the game out of hand. 

    Here are several key takeaways from Sunday's game.

Pass Defense Is an Issue

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    Last week against Arizona, the St. Louis defense allowed three different receivers to reach 80 or more yards. The Cardinals' top three receivers combined for 20 catches and 259 yards. 

    This week, the defense held all of the Atlanta receivers under 50 yards. That is, except for Julio Jones, who absolutely torched the secondary with 182 yards and a touchdown. 

    Pass defense was an issue for the Rams in the preseason, and it has spilled into the regular season. Opposing receivers are making it look too easy. 

    At this point, if you have a fantasy receiver facing the Rams, you should probably put him in the starting lineup immediately. 

    You can argue that the Rams have faced veteran quarterbacks and top-notch receivers in their first two games, but with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant up next, it won't get any easier. 

    The Rams need to plug the holes and tighten their pass defense.

Penalties Are Killing This Team

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    The Rams had seven penalties for over 50 yards a week ago against Arizona, and they matched that disturbing total against Atlanta. 

    Penalties nearly resulted in a loss last week, and they certainly contributed to the loss this week. 

    There's a huge difference between playing aggressive and playing stupid. 

    Four penalties on punt returns—absolutely killing the offense's field position in the process—is stupid. Holding one of the top offenses in the league to a three-and-out on the opening drive and ruining it with an offsides penalty is stupid. 

    If the Rams continue with these highly avoidable mental errors, expect them to lose more winnable games in the future.

Tavon Austin Is a Red-Zone Weapon

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    St. Louis' 6'5" tight end, Jared Cook, has been hyped as the Rams' new red-zone weapon, but it was Tavon Austin who excelled in that department against Atlanta. 

    Austin only had six catches for 47 yards, but Bradford frequently looked in his direction inside the 10-yard line. 

    Austin had two touchdown receptions in the game—one from the 6-yard line, the other from the 10. 

    Austin has yet to dazzle us with any big gains, but his shiftiness as a route-runner is already paying off. He's difficult to cover in tight spaces, which makes him a dangerous weapon when the Rams are nearing the goal line. 

    Once again, Austin is proving that he's more than capable of taking on the Danny Amendola role in this offense.

Robert Quinn Continues to Be the Most Dominant Player on Defense

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    The Rams' pass rush was their biggest advantage over Atlanta entering the game, but it failed to dominate after recording just two sacks. 

    Regardless, Robert Quinn was able to pick up one of those sacks, giving him four on the season after just two games. 

    Quinn consistently created pressure against the Atlanta offensive line, and it could have been a big day for No. 94 had it not been for Matt Ryan's uncanny ability to quickly lose the ball. 

    Quinn had somewhat of a modest day, but he's slowly piecing together a career year.

Rams Will Continue to Spread the Ball Around

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    Last week, Cook shredded the Arizona secondary with seven catches for 141 yards.

    This week, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis were Bradford's go-to guys. Givens had five catches for 105 yards, while Pettis had eight receptions for 78 yards and a score. 

    Next week? Who knows. 

    It's clear that this St. Louis offense will never depend too heavily on one guy. Instead, it'll switch it up and force the opposing defense to pick its poison. 

    We could see the rookie Austin rack up yardage a week from now, or perhaps it'll be a Cook encore. The point is, the Rams have diversity. 

    It's a bit agonizing if a Rams receiver is on your fantasy team. As far as real-life football, it's a good thing for this offense.

Rams Need a Better Run Game

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    When Steven Jackson crossed the goal line on the opening drive for Atlanta's first touchdown of the game, Rams fans were briefly filled with regret. 

    Then, when he left the game after that play with an injury, it reminded us that the Rams made the right move by bringing on a new era. 

    Is that new era centered around second-year pro Daryl Richardson? Or, will the Rams search for Jackson's permanent replacement in the offseason? 

    It's too early to tell, but as of now, the Rams have to do a better job running the ball. 

    Richardson had a modest but respectable 63 yards on 20 carries a week ago. Against Atlanta, his production dropped to just 10 carries and 35 yards. 

    Richardson has been serviceable in his first two games, but a 3.2 yards-per-carry average is not going to cut it. 

    The Rams need to improve their run blocking and find a better way to rotate their backs.

Rams Are Capable of Second-Half Comebacks

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    Last week, the Rams overcame an 11-point deficit and won the game against Arizona. 

    This week, the Rams entered the second half against Atlanta with a 21-point deficit and twice made it a one-score game. 

    Clearly, this Rams team is capable of second-half magic and can handle a late-game deficit, unlike certain Rams teams of the recent past. 

    However, the Rams cannot allow opposing teams to gain a 20-point lead after two quarters. Even the most dominate fourth-quarter offenses in the league can't work with that. 

    In the future, if St. Louis can enter halftime with a lead or a one-score deficit, it'll make a victory much more likely.

Rodger Saffold Cannot Be Counted on for 16 Games

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    Tackle Rodger Saffold—St. Louis' second-round pick from 2010—has struggled to stay on the field, to say the least.

    Saffold started all 16 games in an impressive rookie year, but he has missed 13 starts since then.

    Saffold went down during a 2013 exhibition and missed the rest of the preseason. Against Arizona, he went down and missed a few plays.

    In the latest game at Atlanta, Saffold again went down with an injury in the first half. This time, it came during a crucial moment when the Rams offense was finally in rhythm and marching downfield for its first score of the game, but his injury killed the momentum.

    Add them all up, and Saffold has gone down three times since last month.

    It's hard to blame a guy if he's truly hurting, but why not start backup Joe Barksdale, who has been very solid since arriving in St. Louis last season?  

    It will give Barksdale a chance to jell with other starters on the line, rather than throwing him to the wolves later on in the year when Saffold inevitably misses time. 

    Also, it's highly unlikely Saffold will be retained when he becomes a free agent after this season, so why not give Barksdale a chance to see what he can do?

Pass Protection Has Been Superb

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    Bradford was constantly under pressure during his first two-and-a-half years in the league, but his protection seems to finally be intact. 

    Bradford was sacked four times against Minnesota in Week 15 of 2012, but since then, he has yet to be sacked. 

    Bradford hasn't gone down in four games, dating back to 2012. 

    Jake Long had stiff competition against the Arizona front eight last week, and it didn't get any easier against Osi Umenyiora in Atlanta, but Long and the other linemen have kept Bradford clean this season. 

    As a result, Bradford has 651 yards and five touchdowns in just two games this season. 

    It was a tough loss for the Rams in Atlanta, but take solace in the fact that Bradford is finally getting the protection he needs and is producing like a top-notch passer. 

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer's profile or by following him on Twitter.