Aug 8, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch: Rams @ Falcons

At 1:00 PM, the Atlanta Falcons will kick off their home opener to the St. Louis Rams.  A lot will go into this game and I believe it is a lot more important to the Falcons than just the common early regular season game.  The Rams are uncharacteristically tough and that comes from a very powerful defense.  In fact, the strengths of the Rams seem to very well against the Falcons.  A dominant defensive line will face off against a confused and shaky offensive line.  An opportunistic backfield will cover one of the best receivers in the league while versatile linebackers can do pretty much both.  With pressure, good coverage, and missing a major receiver (or at least production), it’ll be difficult for Atlanta to score.  This game will end up in the defense’s hands.  Can the Atlanta defense hold Sam Bradford and the Rams offense to fewer points than the Falcons?  That’s what will win it.  Here’s what to watch for the game:

Lamar Holmes and the Entire Offensive Line.  Lamar Holmes looked much improved from where he was during preseason.  Considering how bad he looked then, that’s not saying much.  However, the rest of the offensive line wasn’t fairing too much better.  They need to work together much more than last Sunday.  Dimitroff said they would have time to gel together, but they need to be improved this week against a very tough defensive front.  Plus, Sam Baker may not be playing.  That would push Holmes to the left and Truman to the right.  That’s not very assuring.

Robert Alford.  Trufant showed that he could keep up in the NFL.  He didn’t have an interception or anything special, but he covered receivers pretty well and didn’t allow a quarterback like Drew Brees to make him look bad, that’s a good thing.  Alford, on the other hand, looked terrific (minus a bad angle the ended in a huge game) We don’t know if that’s skill or inconsistency.  If Asante isn’t playing, he’s going to have to show how good he can be against a much less effective receiver core.

Harry Douglas.  For the first time in (ever?) Douglas led the team in receiving yards.  He made some major catches and filled in wonderfully for Roddy White.  This could actually be the year Douglas comes out as a real game changer.  Could you imagine if Atlanta had THREE good receivers plus a HOF Tight end and a pass-catching running back?  How could Ryan miss a target?  Either way, he needs to prove that he’s better now.  He can’t drop balls and he can’t slow down.  Douglas needs to make up for the loss production of Roddy and his high ankle sprain.

Every Member of the Defensive Line. That’s right, all of them.  The middle of the line needs to be able to shut down the running game.  Biermann needs to take advantage of the Rams right tackle.  Osi Umenyiora needs to keep Chris Long from being a factor.  Jonathan Massaquoi needs to look like he did in the preseason and get a sack here and there.  Malliciah Goodman needs to fill in while Biermann is a linebacker.  Jerry even needs to play well.  This is the D-line’s game.  If they can put the extra pressure on Bradford and stop the run game before it gets started, it’s only up to the offense to score a handful of points to win the game.

Steven Jackson. Of course you have to watch this guy.  He left St. Louis to come to Atlanta and compete for a championship.  It won’t be easy to run against the Rams, but Atlanta needs to set the run early.  I’ll expect Jackson to get a lot of runs.  I also bet he’ll get his first touchdown in the red and black.  It’ll be an emotional game for him and it’s the best story of the game.

Atlanta has a tough schedule this year and the Saints are back in contention.  If Atlanta loses to the Rams and starts the season 0-2, there is not a lot of hope to make it into the playoffs, let alone very deep.  Atlanta needs to get things going quick in this game.  It may have a little more to do with the rest of the season than anyone wants to believe.

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Tags: Atlanta Falcons Desmond Trufant Harry Douglas Kroy Biermann Lamar Holmes Osi Umenyiora Peria Jerry Roddy White Steven Jackson

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