There was part of me that considered backing the Rams this weekend. I mean, yes; their offence is a complete trainwreck. They have a rookie QB thrown into the deep end from an aeroplane. They have a superstar running back being asked to run through holes that don’t exist. Their receiving corps appear to have cement inside those sticky gloves they wear. But that defence…that’s one hell of a front seven…that is genuinely scary. And with both the best receiver in the league, and his running mate, fighting the injury bug, I had doubts that one time MVP Candidate Falcons QB Matt Ryan had enough about him to pull together a victory with a rag tag team of castoffs from Cleveland and Washington. Turns out he was an MVP candidate for a reason.
This is the sort of game that cements a player’s status among the elite. Matt Ryan spent the best part of a season without his favourite target back in 2013, and, while his numbers weren’t affected massively, things just weren’t right, and the team suffered massively as a result. Julio Jones is a special player. Every snap, he’s covered by 2 defensive backs minimum. Ask Bene Benwickere what happens if you’re left one on one with that freak of nature. Just his presence is enough to draw the attention of half a defence, and, luckily for Matt, the rest of the offense finds spaces that shouldn’t be there.
That was my main concern. Without Julio, and even Sanu to an extent, to occupy the attention of the best cornerback an opposition can muster, and a safety as well, the Rams should have been in a position to play a tight man on man coverage. The biggest bodied eligible receiver was…Levine Toilolo.
So I was worried that, without even decoy Julio Jones, the offence would be anemic, and stale, and essentially unable to break down the Rams actually really good defence, and it would come down to a horrible Rams offense trying to break down an as horrible Falcons defence. I needn’t have worried.
Matt Ryan threw for 237 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 126.6, before being replaced by Matt Shaub in the fourth quarter. Not overly impressive numbers, but, when you’re down your top two receivers, they’re absolutely ideal. All credit to Kyle Shanahan who, with a receiving corp of Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, and Nick Williams, drew up the perfect game plan. A lot of intermediate passes, a lot of screen passes. Tough sledding in the running game, sure; Devonta Freeman struggled to get much on the ground, although it’s difficult when Aaron “probably the best defender in football” Donald is eating up right guard Chris Chester in the trenches, but Tevin Coleman showed his versatility out of the backfield with one touchdown on the ground and one through the air. Turbo Taylor added another touchdown to his tally, on a 65 yard cross off the seam that left Rams defensive backs utterly bamboozled.
When the MVP talk was at its loudest, my largest concern was that, as much as I love Matt Ryan, he’s not…the best…player on the Falcons offense. I was of the belief that he required a stud talent to elevate his game. I think I may have been wrong. And I hope that his MVP hopes are back on course. This is possibly his most impressive showing since the final 2 minutes vs Green Bay, and I’m all in on MattVP.
Believe it or not, however, it wasn’t offense that won the game for Atlanta in Los Angeles. That horrible defence I mentioned earlier was as dominant as you might expect. The headlines were stolen by Vic “First Round Bust” Beasley, who ended the game with three sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovered for a touchdown. Beastley lived up to the talent that got him drafted 8th overall in 2015, putting to bed the horrendous spin move that plagued his rookie year and focusing on his blistering pace. Number 44 goes into week 14 tied with Von Miller in total sacks, 7 forced fumbles on the season, and one truly abysmal touchdown celebration attempt. To those who looked at the numbers from last year, saw 4 sacks total, and wrote him off completely, Beasley is a testament to patience in development. The fact is Beasley was getting pressure last season, and just couldn’t seal the deal. This season, with some mentoring from the great Dwight Freeney, he’s readying up for domination.
Outside of Beasley, Ricardo Allen ended an early Rams drive with an interception, Deion Jones added a third interception, and second pick-six, to his rookie season, and $38 million man Robert Alford, despite a questionable PI call, continued to impress in Desmond Trufant’s absence.
The reality is, however, the game was won after 10 seconds. For all the improvements made defensively (though that run D needs serious work if we even want to think about challenging Dallas), for all the positive impressions made on offense, the game was essentially won and lost on a muffed punt recovered by Paul Worrilow at the LA 3 yard line, which instantly led to a Justin Hardy touchdown. The tempo was set, the Rams had to come out swinging, and they are an outfit certainly not built to match Atlanta in a potential shoot out.
The best thing of all? The Rams are a terrible team, and we embarrassed them. That’s what New England would do in that situation, and that’s what Dallas would do in that situation, no? The Rams are a bad team, and we made them look appalling. That is exactly the sort of attitude this side needs to adopt heading into the final 3 games vs 3 very beatable teams, in a situation where winning out guarantees a final home playoff game in the Georgia Dome.
Onto San Francisco, then.
Game MVP: Vic Beasley