NFL Preview - St. Louis (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Sam Bradford certainly made use of his new offensive
targets in Week 1.
Bradford will try to guide St. Louis to its first 2-0 start in 12
years this Sunday as the Rams visit the Atlanta Falcons and former teammate
Steven Jackson at the Georgia Dome.
The Rams opened up the 2013 season with a 27-24 victory over the division-
rival Arizona Cardinals, with Bradford throwing for 299 yards. Both of his
touchdown passes went to tight end Jared Cook, who was making his St. Louis
debut after having spent his first four NFL seasons with Tennessee.
Cook caught a 13-yard scoring pass to close the first-half scoring at 10-10
and began a 14-point fourth-quarter rally with a one-yard TD grab 2:04 into
the final frame. His seven-catch, 141-yard game was capped with a 25-yard
reception that helped set up Greg Zuerlein's go-ahead 48-yard field goal with
40 seconds to play, his fourth field goal of the game.
The 26-year-old Cook's big game helped make up for his fumble on a potential
touchdown in the first quarter.
Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin was the Rams' second-leading receiver with
six catches for 41 yards.
"For a young team to endure some of the things we did today, I'm so proud of
the guys. No one ever lost their cool," said Bradford.
St. Louis won its season opener for the first time since 2006 and has not
begun a campaign with two straight wins since the franchise won its first six
contests of the 2001 season.
Despite the season-opening victory over a division rival, the Rams won't
change their approach against the Falcons.
"This group, we talked about the '24 hour rule' and it's good to get it over
with and get on to the next opponent after a win," said St. Louis head coach
Jeff Fisher, who won his 150th career game on Sunday. "But, you can't dwell on
the win or the loss and I think they understand that. So, we've already moved
on to Atlanta."
The Rams have also moved on from Jackson, the franchise's all-time leading
rusher with 10,135 yards. He spent his first nine seasons with St. Louis after
being selected 24th overall in the 2004 draft, scoring 56 rushing touchdowns
while catching another eight scoring passes.
Jackson, though, made the playoffs just once with the Rams, during his rookie
season, and the club allowed him to void the final season of the six-year deal
he signed with St. Louis in 2008. He signed with Atlanta in March and said
Wednesday that it didn't feel strange putting on a Falcons uniform until he
saw himself on film.
"When you actually look at it and you see yourself in red and black instead of
the blue and gold, it was quite different then," he added. "It's been a little
bit different this week studying the guys, looking at them schematically,
differently than I have over the years. It's separating the personal from the
The Falcons and Jackson hope to rebound after Sunday's disappointing 23-17
road loss to New Orleans. Atlanta managed 367 yards of offense, but was held
scoreless over its final four drives, the final one ending when Matt Ryan was
intercepted in the end zone on 4th-and-goal with 43 seconds left.
Ryan threw for 304 yards and found wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end
Tony Gonzalez for touchdown passes, while Jackson ran for 77 yards on 11
carries in his Falcons debut. He also caught five balls for 45 yards.
"This obviously was a game we had a chance to win, but we made far too many
mistakes throughout the game," noted Falcons head coach Mike Smith. "Even
there in the end we had a great chance but we just didn't get the outcome we
wanted. With that being said, we know it's just the first game of a new year."
Though there is still a long way to go, Smith's club will still look to avoid
losing its first two games of the season for the first time since an 0-3 start
to the 2007 campaign.
Atlanta started last season 8-0 before a loss in New Orleans.
The Falcons have won three of their past four meetings with the Rams since a
seven-game series winning streak by St. Louis that spanned from 1999-2003.
Atlanta also has won the past two encounters at home since the Rams' last road
win in this series on Dec. 2, 2001.
This contest will also feature the top three picks of the 2008 draft. The
Dolphins took tackle Jake Long first overall and he signed with the Rams this
past offseason. St. Louis then selected defensive end Chris Long before the
Falcons took Ryan.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While it won't be a return trip to St. Louis, it still figures to be an
emotional game for Jackson, who faces off against the only other franchise he
has been a part of.
Jackson entered the season as the league's active rushing leader having posted
eight straight 1,000-yard seasons. He ripped off a 50-yard run in Sunday's
loss, but was held to just 27 yards on the other 10 carries.
"I thought we were able to run the ball effectively at times and there were
times when we could've done it better. I think he's a great addition to our
offense and I think he shows what he's capable of doing in the scheme that we
are running," Smith said of Jackson.
Both head coaches had differing opinions of their offensive lines following
Week 1, with Bradford extending his streak of not getting sacked to three
straight games dating back to last season.
The addition of left tackle Jake Long figured to strengthen the Rams' line and
Bradford was able to complete 71.1 percent of his passes. That, despite the
ground game managing just 67 yards on 24 carries. Daryl Richardson had the
bulk of that yardage on 20 attempts.
"We kept the pocket clean for the most part. Sam was touched six times in the
game and that was pretty good," said Fisher.
Rams running back Zac Stacy got just one carry versus the Cardinals and Isaiah
Pead is set to return this weekend from his one-game suspension for violating
the league's substance abuse policy. It is unknown if he will play in this
Ryan, meanwhile, was taken down three times by the Saints and hit several
other times. Smith wants his offensive line to improve going forward.
"Well we have to protect the quarterback a lot better than we did today, but
there's a lot of things we have to do better. (Ryan) was hit entirely too many
times today and that's one of the things we have to correct," the coach said
following the loss to the Saints.
Tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes face a tough task this weekend in Rams
front four, which is bookended by a pair of talented ends in Chris Long and
Quinn is coming off a huge game, having matched a career high with three sacks
while also forcing two fumbles, one that was recovered by Long to set up a
"I've been saying he's is a top five -- eventually a top three pass rusher,"
Long said of Quinn. "He's as dangerous as anybody in the league. He's just
going to continue to show it, and it's scary how good he can be."
St. Louis' secondary has plenty of Atlanta receivers to keep tabs on,
including Jones, Gonzalez and Harry Douglas. Wide receiver Roddy White is
usually on that list, but a high ankle sprain limited him to more of a decoy
role versus the Saints and he was held to just two catches for 19 yards.
Jones is a big-play threat and had 76 yards on seven catches versus the
Saints, while Douglas had a big 50-yard reception. It was his longest catch
since a 69-yarder as a rookie in 2008.
Even at 37 years old, Gonzalez remains one of the top tight ends in the game
and he made three catches last weekend to extend his streak of consecutive
games with a reception to 196.
The Falcons certainly know how effective tight ends can be, so they'll make
sure to shut down Cook, who is coming off his first multi-touchdown game. His
141 receiving yards also were the second-highest for Cook in a game.
"That's why he's here," said Fisher. "We've got an accurate passer that can
find him and he can make plays with the ball. He's outstanding."
Smith certainly took notice, saying "I know Jared Cook is a very good tight
end and will create match up issues for anyone they play."
With cornerback Asante Samuel inactive due to a thigh injury, rookie Robert
Alford grabbed an interception in his debut, also knocking down a pair of
passes for the Falcons.
The Falcons have shown great resiliency following a loss under Smith, having
gone 20-3 in games following a defeat since 2008. That includes a 12-game
winning streak in such scenarios.
There is no reason to think that trend won't continue in the Falcons' home
opener, always a tough venue for opposing teams. Mix in a motivated Jackson
and the Rams are in for a long game.
"I'd be lying to say I don't want to get the win, of course I want to get the
win, but I have to come out there and just remain in the zone, in my focus and
not get too up," said Jackson.
The Rams' excellent pass rush could keep this game close given Atlanta's
struggles to protect Ryan last week, but it won't be enough to see the Falcons
suffer consecutive losses for the first time since 2009.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 31, Rams 20
09/12 11:29:58 ET