Do Da Dirty Bird: Previewing Preseason Game Two, Falcons @ Rams

John McCurdyCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2009

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 15: Running back Jerious Norwood #32 of the Atlanta Falcons runs with the football against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 15, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Already time to preview another Falcons game. I tell you what, weekly doses of Dirty Bird ball is just what this writer needed.

Of course, this is preseason. And I'm writing previews for these games...maybe I'm a tad bit too excited? It's a pretty silly idea, after all, to try to predict what's going to happen in these glorified practices.

But after writing one of these last week in preparation for our trip to Detroit, I realize that this actually is serious stuff. To some people (other than the guys fighting for a roster spot) the preseason really does matter, and it's completely possible to hurt feelings with an article like this (sorry again to all my Lions buddies).

So for my second go-round, I'll try to be a little more diplomatic.

Yes, even though we go to St. Louis on Friday.


St. Louis Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense

Hmm, maybe it won't be so hard to say some nice things about our opponents. Right off the bat, one strikes me: The Rams' rushing attack looked fine last week with carries getting spread all over the place, and they'll be facing a Falcons' run stoppage that experienced a great slippage once the second- and third-teamers came in.

Against the Jets, it was St. Louis' Samkon Gado who looked the best, but Antonio Pittman was great as well. Steven Jackson didn't have to worry about much, as his backup's backups showed explosiveness against the Jets.

Meanwhile, Atlanta's ability to stuff it got worse as we rotated down the depth chart against Detroit. Obviously, everyone would have loved to see more out of Peria Jerry, but I think it's safe to call out the entirety of the defensive line except for Trey Lewis.

Way too many tackles had to be made by Coy Wire, Eric Brock, and Chris Owens (though you did a terrific job, young fella).

I'm crossing my fingers for more action for the rookies (Jerry and tweener Lawrence Sidbury) so that they can build a little confidence.

I liked what I saw from LBs Robert James, Stephen Nicholas, and (of course) Mike Peterson; I'd expect to see more of James and Nicholas on Friday, while Peterson has probably done all he needs to dissipate any doubts regarding his age.

All I've read indicates that Rams LG Jacob Bell is fine after a slight injury last week. That'll suit St. Louie just fine, as the O-line groups they put out there last week blocked well enough for darn near 200 yards on the ground, and they need their key bodies healthy as they tinker with inserting rookie Jason Smith and potential starter John Greco on certain plays.

As a Falcon fan, I guess what I fear most is another breakout game from Gado or (and this is the more likely) Pittman getting the majority of the carries and showing he's just as good of a third-stringer.

Due to the nature of the scrimmage...oh, I mean, game...I think the staff will be hard-pressed to inspire Jerry and the rest to step it up. It may come down to the second-levelers swarming, like last week.


Atlanta Rush Offense v. St. Louis Rush Defense

The Rams' D was exceedingly stingy with N.Y. last week, holding them to just above a C-note despite Thomas Jones tying for the most carries on the team. So, um, this could be an "uh-oh."

Unless, of course, we choose to let Michael Turner carry for the entirety of the first half. The Burner looked the spitting image of his last-year self, legs churning and body low as he negated opponents' meager attempts to slow him. But how can we justify letting the grind begin for him right now?

We can't, so Jerious Norwood, you're going to have to step up a bit. Lions LBs managed to meet you outside pretty much every time you carried this past Saturday, so none of your breakaway speed was showcased. And beyond that, Thomas Brown had only one solid run.

A mix of greater performance from the two behind Turner and better playcalling might help us get over the hump that is a suddenly deep Rams front seven. C.J.

Ah, you and Eric Moore both proved that there are more ends on this team than just Leonard Little and Chris Long, and the linebackers are composed of at least five solid guys: Quinton Culberson, Chris Chamberlain, Chris Draft, James Laurinaitis, and Will Witherspoon all looked good.

On the ground both on offense and defense, we Falcons fans saw a too-dramatic drop-off from the starters to the backups and beyond. Whether I alone detected a general lack of interest (even for a preseason game) from the guys, I'm not sure, but a bit more fire as the clock winds down is no doubt necessary.


St. Louis Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense

Ahhh...OK, here it is at least more safe to slip into my normal ridiculously pro-Falcons style. I'm thinking most everyone will agree with me, Rams fans included, when I say they need some work on the air game.

Last week they put up just 145 yards through the air, albeit without Donnie Avery. One could argue that the aforementioned success of the ground game made passing the ball less necessary and that's what led to their modest numbers, but I have a sneaking suspicion it had more to do with so-so quarterback play and even worse pass protection.

And just a few paragraphs ago I was praising the St. Louis O-line for their run blocking?

There they could succeed with strong individual performances—guys tying up their assignment and opening a specific hole—but in pass protection, the unit must work more as a whole, and between the injury to Bell and the need to rotate in Smith and Greco, they were largely unable to.

Case in point: Backup QB Brock Berlin getting nailed and now having an ACL sprain. At least he and starter Marc Bulger got solid performances out of Laurent Robinson and Randy McMichael.

But the thing is, in my mind, only McMichael has a chance of being a matchup problem for us. Robinson, Sean Walker, and whoever else the Rams can throw at us should fear Brock, Owens, and Antoine Harris, who all cleaned up nicely on Saturday, and Chevis Jackson and Von Hutchins, who I expect good things from this week as they fight for more regular-season playing time.

In the meantime, John Abraham will get a token rush or two, and I have a hunch Kroy Biermann will pick up at least one sack.


Atlanta Pass Offense v. St. Louis Pass Defense

As we move to the last section of analysis, I get to stay in my comfort zone. At least mostly, as I'm fairly confident the hiccups we saw in the Falcons' passing game last week were mostly due to D.J. Shockley's jitters.

Shockley and Chris Redman threw the majority of balls for us, and did only OK, going a combined 8-for-17 for 60 yards. I could see a bounce-back, or I could see more time for Ryan and John Parker Wilson.

Either way, we're going to get more production out of a receiving corps that reassured me with its depth.

Brian Finneran snatched one over the top, Marty Booker looked five years younger, and Eric Weems made me look slightly intelligent in picking him as the man to step up in the slot in Harry Douglas' absence. Consider this a request for more tosses Chandler Williams' and Troy Bergeron's way, though.

To tip the scales even more in our favor, they're not going to be marked by anyone of significance. Jonathan Wade had a good game last week, but otherwise the Rams' secondary left things up to the front seven.

I've got faith in Oshiomogho Atogwe, but considering how little he played and the fact that N.Y.'s David Clowney broke triple digits in receiving yards, I have trouble believing that STL can lock up all our guys at once.

The Dirty Bird offensive line allowed no sacks last week, a great omen. If you've ever read DDDB, you know I'm concerned yet hopeful about Sam Baker and his ability to protect our passer; he, the vets around him, and my two favorite O-line backups, Quinn Ojinnaka and Will Svitek, did good by me on Saturday.

I'd expect the occasional rush from the Rams, but the Falcons will be more comfortable (more comfortable than no sacks? Yes) passing the ball this week.

More plays for Tony Gonzalez isn't a bad idea in my head; obviously, the man needs no work, but just allowing the fans to catch some additional glimpses and letting his teammates see him in game action would have its benefits.

The possibility of Moore or Little coming off the edge and putting our signalcaller on his rump frightens me a little bit, and I'll even give a more rush-oriented LB like Chamberlain a chance, but we'll be striking through the air like a true bird of prey would more often than not.


Prediction: Falcons 28, Rams 17

We won't stop the Rams from scoring a couple on the ground, but as you may have gathered by this point, my confidence in the passing game has been renewed since Douglas' injury.

I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't mention that both teams have great kicking games, but that the return game goes to Atlanta. Loved seeing Weems have success bringing back punts last week, and Tommy should get a few more shots at taking back kicks. Of course, I already knew Gado was a decent returner, but now he's burned it into my mind.

In the end, controlling the skies and improving the run and run control once the starters are out will equal a win for the ATL.


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