The Rams will seek to win their first playoff game since the 2004-05 season this weekend when they take on the Atlanta Falcons. There are plenty of questions surrounding both teams as they enter the game with completely different storylines. While the Rams haven’t been to the playoffs in over a decade, the Falcons were in the Super Bowl just last season. Whereas the Rams cruised relatively easily to a division title and playoff berth, the Falcons season was filled with ups and downs as their offense has failed to replicate the explosiveness of last season. Here are the three biggest questions surrounding the game.
Which Matt Ryan Will Show Up?
Matt Ryan had an unbelievable season last year, winning the MVP and leading the Falcons all the way to the Super Bowl. He averaged an other-worldly 9.3 yards per pass attempts with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He’s regressed significantly this year, likely due to the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to become the head coach of the 49ers.
After averaging 309 yards per game last year, he eclipsed 300 yards just four times this season and threw 12 interceptions while dropping his completion percentage by a full five percent. The Falcons are holding out hope that 2016 Matt Ryan shows up to lead them on another playoff run, and if he does the Rams could be in big trouble. If he plays like he has this season under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian however, it’s unlikely the Falcons will be able to keep up with the Rams’ high scoring offense.
Will The Young Rams Stay Composed?
One of the most talked about storylines of this game is the Rams’ lack of playoff experience. Almost all of their key players will be making their playoff debuts on Sunday and it’s important they don’t let the moment be too big for them. The team has shown they can stay composed in tough environments like Seattle and Arizona, but they’ve never experienced anything like an NFL playoff game. Coach Sean McVay should have his troops disciplined, but if any of the young guys get jitters that cause them to make costly mistakes, it could cost the Rams the game. Mental mistakes are often prevalent in the playoffs and the young Rams core of Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald will have to avoid making them in their first career playoff games.
How Will Sarkisian Call The Game?
The biggest difference between this year’s Falcons team and last year’s is the absence of Shanahan. Shanahan and McVay are probably the two brightest young offensive minds in the game, so the Rams will hold a noticeable play-calling advantage. If Shanahan were still on the Atlanta sideline, that wouldn’t be the case. The Atlanta offense has regressed across the board this season, particularly in the red zone. Not all of that can be blamed on Sarkisian, but he hasn’t done the best job utilizing his weapons.
One of the things Shanahan did so well was get his running backs involved in the passing game, which hasn’t happened much so far under Sark. Last year, running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 85 catches and 883 yards receiving. This year, they combined for just 63 catches for 616 yards, a significant drop in production. If Sarkisian can channel his inner-Shanahan and call a creative game, he should be able to exploit the weaknesses and injuries of the Rams defense. Fortunately for the Rams, Sarkisian hasn’t put anything on tape to suggest that he’s capable of that.
Those are the major questions surrounding the game. We should know the answer to all of them fairly early on Saturday. They’ll go a long way toward deciding whether the Rams advance to the divisional round or go one and done after this magical season.
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