As the 7-2 Falcons see if they have an answer for Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who is 4-1 in the Edward Jones Dome, what if. …
1. The game comes down to the final minutes.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, known as “Matty Ice,” developed a reputation for being cool under pressure in college.
Ryan, who’s in his third season in the NFL, is showing that he’s a cool customer at crunch time as a pro, too.
The 80-yard, seven-play drive in the final 65 seconds against Baltimore will only add to the legend of Matty Ice.
Ryan is impressed with St. Louis’ defense, which is tied for the league lead in sacks with 28.
“In watching their defense you see an athletic defense with a really good defensive line,” Ryan said. “They have a lot of talented guys at not only defensive end, but at [defensive] tackle. They get a good push.”
Defensive end James Hall, an 11-year veteran from Michigan, leads them with 7.5 sacks, and Chris Long has 5.5.
“Their guys on the outside get a good pass rush,” Ryan said. “They are relentless and give great effort.”
2. The Falcons fall into the trap.
After the Falcons defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints earlier this season, they had a
letdown against San Francisco the following Sunday.
They needed Roddy White’s strip and fumble to get the ball back before they drove down for the winning points in a 16-14 cliffhanger.
The Falcons are coming off a big win over the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 11. It will be interesting to see how they handle the big win, and having the best record in the NFC, against the Rams, who are 4-1 at home this season.
“This is what they would call a trap game,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “I don’t believe in that stuff. If we are as good as we think we are, we need to go in there and stay focused. Any given Sunday a team can beat you. We have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Gonzalez, who spent most of his career on the west side of the Show Me State in Kansas City, is curious to see how his younger teammates respond.
“This is a good test for us to see where we are at mentally as a team,” Gonzalez said. “If we are going to go out there play hard or play down.”
Gonzalez could reach a couple of milestones against the Rams.
He has 85 career touchdowns and needs two touchdown catches to tie Andre Reed (87) for 11th in NFL history.
Gonzalez, who has 12,209 receiving yards in his illustrious career, is also 78 yards shy of tying Jimmy Smith for 15th on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list.
3. The Falcons win the battle on third down.
The Rams have been downright ornery on third down this season.
St. Louis held San Francisco to 0-of-11 on third-down attempts and sacked 49ers quarterback Troy Smith five times on third down last week.
The opposition has converted just 32.5 percent of their third downs against the Rams, which ranks fourth in the league.
Long, the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has played a key role in the third-down dominance. In the San
Francisco game, he shared two sacks with linebacker James Laurinaitis. He has at least one sack in four consecutive games.
Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, is extremely active as he leads the Rams with 14 quarterback hits and 13 pressures.
The Falcons lead the league in third-down conversions. They’ve converted 68 of 141 attempts (48.2 percent). Against the Ravens, they converted 12 of 20 (60 percent), including five of six in the fourth quarter.
Falcons receiver Roddy White has caught 20 passes on third down and shares the league lead with Miami wide receiver Davone Bess. Of those 20 catches, 17 have gone for first downs.
He also leads the league with 323 receiving yards on third down.
4. Rams running back Steven Jackson turns in a big game.
Jackson, who is 13 yards shy of 10,000 yards rushing and receiving in his career, is the key to the Rams’ offense and the main reason why rookie quarterback Sam Bradford is enjoying some success.
”He’s a big running back,” Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “He opens up the passing game for the quarterback if they starting hitting you with play action when he’s running the ball well.”
Since entering the league in 2004, Jackson has rushed for 7,464 yards and has 2,523 yards receiving.
In 2010, Jackson ranks fourth in the NFC and seventh in the NFL with 993 yards from scrimmage.
“He carries this team in a lot ways,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “When he goes good, we usually tend to go pretty good because … the guys rally around him.”
5. Kick returner Eric Weems continues to set up the offense with good field position.
The Falcons rank sixth in the NFC and 10th in the league in kickoff-return average with 24.9 yards per return.
Weems has averaged 25.4 yards on 24 returners. Jerious Norwood had four returns for a 24.3 average, and Ovie Mughelli has one return for 6 yards.
The Falcons have also had 22 returns of more than 20 yards, and 75.9 percent of their returns have gone for 20 or more yards, a mark that ranks fourth in the NFL.
“Drive start is imperative for us,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “That’s one of the things we want to get to our advantage on offense … Eric has done a good job in punt returns and kickoff returns. He’s very efficient.”