Winless Rams, Falcons Have Matching Yet Different Records in Week 2 Showdown

The Rams are in no position to take the seemingly hapless Falcons lightly.

Overreaction knows no greater nirvana than the aftermath of an NFL season’s kickoff weekend. 

For half of the league’s 32 members, the Super Bowl awaits. The latter portion must simply wait until next season, their dreams of a Lombardi Trophy hoist dashed before Carrie Underwood hits the high note in “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night” (Sidenote: those members on each side could grow or shrink depending on how Houston/Indianapolis fans feel about their opening equalizer). 

The Los Angeles Rams, part of the latter group of losers, have been subjected to more negative prophecies than usual thanks to their status as the fallen party in the traditional Thursday night opener. Los Angeles is perhaps most thankful for the Dallas Cowboys’ primetime no-show, as any football-focused satire turned to those who worship the star rather than the horns. 

A delayed chance for redemption finally arrives on Sunday as the Rams (0-1) battle the Atlanta Falcons in Inglewood (1:05 p.m. PT, Fox). 

Head coach Sean McVay’s group doesn’t care who they play to rectify the 31-10 sin they left on the field at SoFi Stadium against the Buffalo Bills, the Super Bowl champions of public opinion after 16 games. 

“I think (we’re) excited about the response no doubt about it. I think as a competitor, I mean sometimes, until you get punched in the face, you really find out about people,” McVay said. “That’s what I love is the opportunity to respond, that’s what makes this game so great. Whether we had won it or whether we had lost it, you got to be able to move forward.”

To that end, the Falcons might be the perfect opponent for the Rams to face.

The naked, perhaps naive, eye sees the Falcons as the perfect sacrificial lamb (pun intended) for the Rams’ first victory. Atlanta (0-1) is meandering through the first stages of the post-Matt Ryan era, a nearly uninterrupted 14-year run where the team never had to worry about the quarterback position. Nearly every remnant of their bittersweet run to Super Bowl LI is gone, replaced a potential-packed but raw prospects set to lead the next generation. 

Surely, this Atlanta team is mere cannon fodder for the Rams, the equivalent of the Falcons’ collegiate national champion brethren from Athens facing Samford after dismantling then-No. 11 Oregon on the national stage. 

That’s not the way the Rams’ reps see it, keeping the necessary attitude a team embarrassed on its home field would be expected to carry.  

“It’s going to be such a great challenge because they’re using their players great,” McVay said, praising the work of Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith. “They’re using really everybody that they have up on the offensive side from an active-roster perspective. There’s a lot of stuff to deal with.” 

“They do a really nice job of keeping everything in front of them,” quarterback Matthew Stafford added. “(They’ve) got two really good, high-quality corners. Some young guys in the post and the safety position are playing at a high level, obviously a disruptive defensive line. They do a really nice job. Their coordinator has been a coordinator for a while and is a really smart guy. They’re well coached and do a nice job.”

Stafford, sacked seven times and losing three interceptions in the Thursday opener, has faced a Pees-led defense twice during his time in Detroit, losing to his Baltimore forces in 2013 (throwing three interceptions) and 2017 (completing 24-of-29 passes but losing 44-20). 

Moral victories don’t count in the NFL, lest all 32 teams stand undefeated at the end of the year. But the Falcons (0-1) have plenty to take with them from the first game of the post-Ryan regime. Atlanta put up 201 yards rushing and 26 first downs, a good portion of the ground attack coming from the unconventional pair of hybrid Codarrelle Patterson and quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

“They run an interesting style of offense. They have pretty much every running style in each of their personnels,” Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said of a Mariota-led offense. “You’ve got to be conscious of the personnels because you’ve got receivers that do really, really well at running back. You’ve got guys moving all across the board … Everybody (has to be) conscious and focused on that because if you pay too much attention to the run, that’s when they throw the ball and too much attention to the pass is when the run sneaks into you.”

While Mariota and Patterson have taken their NFL lumps, their receiving corps is led by the young Drake London and Kyle Pitts, who are on pace to pick up where Ryan targets like Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez left off. Wagner added brief levity to the Rams’ proceedings, claiming to counter London and Pitts’ height by “pushups.” 

Even if the Rams had prevailed against the Bills on Thursday, there are far too many cautionary tales from Sunday’s past to destroy the possibility of taking the Falcons lightly. In a way, McVay sounded almost grateful for the shellacking from Western New York, one that will ensure they won’t let their guard down against a team many expect to land in an early draft slot come next spring. 

“Sometimes those humbling experiences … they can be when you got the right people, they can be blessings in disguise,” McVay said. “That’s the only way that I know how to look at it. We’re going to worry about the things that we can control.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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