The Falcons traveled to Los Angeles on Saturday for a Wild Card clash with the LA Rams. The Falcons played a great game and left Los Angeles with a 26-13 win and punched their ticket to Philadelphia.
In my preview I talked about how the falcons needed to control time of possession:
“When facing a high powered offense like the Rams, it is important to keep the offense off the field for as long as possible and limit the number of possessions the other team has”
They won that battle by controlling the ball for 37:35 and it helped them limit the Rams number of possessions and limit the Rams’ high powered offense to 13 points, which is 16 points less than their season average.
I also talked about how the Falcons needed to win the turnover margin:
Win Turnover Margin
The Falcons, this year have been poor on defense in the turnover department. Going into Week 17, they were tied for last in the NFL in TOs forced but after the 3 INTs, the Falcons are 27th in the league in TOs forced. The good thing is that they are 9th in TOs from their offense. The Falcons are 5-1 this year when they win the turnover margin this year so it’s important for the offense to make the correct decisions and for the defense to be “fast and physical” like Dan Quinn preaches.
The Falcons did win the turnover margin (+2) although both turnovers did come on special teams.
The other thing I got correct in my prediction was when I talked about the importance of establishing a running game:
The Falcons are 3-0 when Devonta Freeman gets more than 24 touches (rushing and receiving) and are 4-1 when he gets 15+ rushing attempts.
The Falcons got Freeman 18 touches for 66 yards and so they improved to 5-1 when Freeman gets over 15 rushing attempts.
The Rams game showed us a lot about the Falcons and its players. Here is what I learned from watching this game:
1. This defense is FOR REAL
The Rams came into Saturday’s game averaging 29.8 PPG, 361.5 YPG, 239.4 PassYPG, and 122.1 RushYPG. The Falcons held them to 13 points, 361 yards, 246 pass yards, and 115 rush yards. While the yards were there for the Rams, what was impressive is how the Falcons kept them out of the end zone even when the Rams got to the red zone. This year, the Rams had a red zone Touchdown percentage of 57%. The falcons held them to 1 touchdown in the rams 4 trips good for a 25% red zone percentage. This is 32% less than the Rams averaged this year but also 22% less than the Falcons average so it shows improvement. As I talked about in my preview, it would be important to stop Todd Gurley. While the defense didn’t completely shut him down they did keep him to 111 yards, which is 28.5 yards below his average. Gurley also averaged 1.26 TDs a game but the Falcons kept him out of the end zone despite the Rams having 4 red zone opportunities. While this is all impressive the main stat that’s important is that Todd Gurley averaged 54 YAC/G but the falcons kept him to 5 yards after the catch. This is very much due to the outstanding open field tackling.
This was especially seen when Brian Poole would tackle Gurley. Poole’s tackles were very fundamentally sound and helped keep Gurley from breaking off his usual big plays.
2. Robert Alford is a great CB2
Robert Alford has always been questioned as a cornerback throughout the time he’s been in Atlanta. While most of the criticism this year has been towards Trufant, Alford was still not thought of as a great or even good 2nd cornerback. If any questions as to whether he could perform on a high level weren’t already put to rest, this game should have. Alford finished the game with a 85.8 PFF grade. He was thrown at eight times and allowed two catches for 17 yards as well as having two pass breakups.
This play shows Alford’s ability to adjust and prevent the completion. There’s a lot of hand-fighting during the play but Watkins does push off a little bit. Its great that Alford turns his head and puts a hand out and swats the ball away so there is no chance of a tipped ball.
Alford gets behind on this route but does a wonderful job to accelerate and cut off the pass. Another great aspect of this play is that when Kupp runs to the sideline, Alford watches the QB, tracks his eyes, and cut off the pass.
The last play is when the Rams are at Atlanta’s 49 in the 4th quarter down by 13. The Rams like to go for the deep pass play and Mcvay saw something so he decided to go for it. Thankfully, Alford was there and prevented the comeback from happening. Watkins gets inside position which is a problem a lot of the time for Alford as he is a smaller corner. Alford does well to us Watkins left shoulder as a spring to get Alford high up to prevent Watkins from catching it and most likely scoring.
3. This young defense has grit
One of the main story-lines this game and this year has been this young defense. I had a lot of questions coming into this game on how this young defense would play in their first road playoff game. Not only was this a road playoff game but the Rams came in with a high powered offense. This young defense impressed once again even with their backs up against the wall.
Another thing that impressed me is how well the defense tackled. Gurley was one of the best players this year avoiding tackles (27 receiving broken tackles) as well as Cooper Kupp (15 receiving broken tackles). The open field tackling in this game was great and really prevented the Rams offense from getting their confidence up as well as extending their drives on short passes.
4. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones continue to impress in the playoffs
Julio Jones has always showed up in the playoffs and Matt Ryan just began to show up last year. They continue to be a dynamic duo that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. They connected for 94 yards and a TD in the game against the Rams. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have combined for 52 catches, 733 yards, and 6 TDs. Ryan also has a completion percentage of 80% when targeting Julio. Julio averages 104 YPG as well as .8 TD/G in the playoffs. That yards per game total is good for 5th all time among players that have played 2 or more games. Matt Ryan also averages 273.6 yards per game which is good for 10th all time among players who have played 2 or more players. Ryan is also 3rd all time in playoffs passer rating. If Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can continue their dominance in the playoffs, the Falcons will continue to have great offensive games.
5. Takkarist McKinley continues to improve
Takk McKinley has been an exciting player for the Falcons this year. Selected in the 1st round, Takk has 6 sacks which is 3rd among rookies this year. What is even more impressive is that the players above him, Carl Lawson and Myles Garrett, have 477 and 518 snaps respectively while Takk has only played 401 snaps. He has an explosive get-off and a great power move/bull rush that he uses very well. He had one of his best games in his 1st playoff game vs. the Rams with 1 sack and 2.5 tackles.