By Cedric Williams
The St. Louis Rams played one exciting game without franchise all-time leading rusher Steven Jackson, who signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons this past offseason.
But in Week 2, the Rams will see Jackson back out on the field again, as they’ll travel to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for a truly intriguing matchup with their former eight-time 1,000-yard rusher and three-time Pro Bowl, who’ll be making his home debut for his new club.
Last season, the Falcons had the best record in the entire league at 14-2, and narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl, after blowing a big lead in the NFC Championship Game to the San Francisco 49ers.
This season, Atlanta opened on the road and played spine-tingler of its own against the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in Louisiana.
Atlanta led that game 10-0 early, but eventually fell 23-17 to a Saints club that was playing its first game with suspended head coach Sean Payton back on the sidelines.
This coming Sunday, the Falcons will get to host their own “Dome Opener” and get to raise their banner as the 2012 NFC South champions.
Atlanta on offense
The Falcons might have the best offense in the league. They certainly have as many offensive weapons as anyone else, with quarterback Matt Ryan leading a group that includes speedy wideout Roddy White, athletic big-play maven Julio Jones, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, and of course the aforementioned Jackson.
Atlanta put up 367 yards against the Saints, with Ryan passing for 304 of them and also throwing two touchdowns (one to Jones and one to Gonzalez). Jackson led the way on the ground, carrying the ball 11 times for 77 yards, including a 50-yard ramble that helped set up the Falcons’ final score early in the third quarter.
White, Jones, Gonzalez, and another speedster Harry Douglas combined for 19 catches and 250 yards, but none of them were able to come up with the big catch at the end of regulation to win the game for Atlanta.
Atlanta on defense
The Falcons feature one of the most versatile defensive units in the league, which allows defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to mix and match his looks whenever he wants from Atlanta’s standard 4-3 base lineup to a 3-4 or even certain specialized nickel and dime formations with extra DBs on the field.
Nolan especially likes his nickel packages and used three cornerbacks on the field on more than 2,500 of the Falcons’ defensive snaps last year.
After last week though, Atlanta may need more coverage help, as New Orleans’ Drew Brees torched the Falcon secondary for 357 yards and two touchdowns, with only one interception.
Atlanta believes it improved its defensive line with the signing of Osi Umenyiora and drafting of college sackmaster Malliciah Goodman, but against the Saints, who threw the ball 35 times on Sunday, the Falcons only hit Brees five times and was only able to sack him twice.
Those are numbers that have to improve if the Falcons are going to take that final step and reach the Super Bowl.
The Georgia Dome has been one of the toughest places to play in the league the last few years, and that figures to be the case again on Sunday, as Atlanta hosts its first home game of the year there.
The Rams last won in Atlanta back in 2001, when the Greatest Show on Turf took down the Dirty Birds 35-6.
Since then, the Falcons have won three straight over the Rams at the Georgia Dome, including a 31-27 thriller back in 2008.
The Rams lead the all-time matchup though, 47-27-2.
Many believe the Falcons are one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year, so this will not be an easy game for St. Louis.
The Rams have played tough teams well on the road during Jeff Fisher’s short tenure (one full season plus one full game) as head coach. But going into what should be a raucous Georgia Dome for Atlanta’s home opener will be an experience almost none of the Rams players have faced before.
St. Louis does have big-play capabilities on its offense, but Atlanta has more, and if the Falcons are the team the experts say they are, they should be able to handle the Rams at home.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.