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BillyCarpenter1 10-14-2003 06:32 PM

ProFootballWeekly on Falcons asks associate editor Jeff Reynolds, reporting from St. Louis, for his thoughts on the Rams-Falcons "Monday Night Football" matchup.

Rams blow Falcons off the field

St. Louis had few problems, if any, manhandling Atlanta in a Monday-night matchup expected in the preseason to be a fine battle of potent offenses before Falcons QB Mike Vick went down with an injury. With backup QB Doug Johnson in the fold, the Falcons have struggled, but the defense has not done much to help overcome the loss of the playmaking Vick. The Rams exposed the Falcons' defense once again, shutting out Atlanta 36-0.

PFW: How did the Rams, who haven't shut out an opponent since Game Four of the 2001 season, dominate the Falcons as well as they did?

Reynolds: There may not have been a game played in the first six weeks of this season that was a better visual sample of teams headed in virtually opposite directions. The Falcons are a self-titled "defeated team." The defense is on the field far too long, teams are attacking weaknesses in the 3-4 defense that Atlanta simply can’t make disappear — they don’t have the personnel to match up with top receivers, lack team speed and, in part because each individual is pining to be the player to make the big, season-turning play, the defense as a whole lacks discipline.

The Rams’ game plan on Monday was to attack the perimeter of the Falcons’ defense early. Mike Martz scripted plays that would draw the linebackers and safeties to the middle of the field: running inside and throwing the ball intermediately to crossing receivers. The heart of the Falcons defense — where ILB Keith Brooking is supposed to provide a physical presence against the run — appears to be one of the weaker units in the league. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips credited the Rams Monday night but also said his defense is going back to the drawing board. Several Rams players, including most of the offensive line and RB Lamar Gordon, studied film of the Atlanta defense during the bye week. They noticed, Gordon told PFW, that cutback lanes always existed. Gordon said the first 20 plays on Mike Martz’s script were designed to mostly soften the defense, programming them to think “outside, outside� before capitalizing on their overpursuit. The key for Gordon was the NT position, where Ed Jasper and Ellis Johnson split time. Gordon’s first read was the nose tackle. If he chased laterally rather than driving upfield and staying in his assigned gap, Gordon knew the cutback was there. He was coached this week to hone in on the body position of the nose tackle and try to get around his inside shoulder (the shoulder nearest the middle of the field) on his cuts. “If he’s not there, the linebacker isn’t there,� Gordon said. “And I know I can beat the safety.�

One pro scout for a future Rams opponent said Monday night that the Rams were starting to look like a more balanced offense, adding that the offensive line had jelled and was playing “as well as any in the NFL.� ORG Adam Timmerman, all too familiar with the finesse and pass-happy labels given Rams teams of the past, summed it up the best: “Man, we’re in danger of becoming a running team.�

Martz does seem to be grasping game management. Outside of tossing the ball to Gordon on a 4th-and-goal inside the 10-yard line with a 3-0 lead in the second quarter instead of plowing the ball up the middle at an undersized defensive line, Martz wisely played it close to the vest and took what the defense gave him. CBs Tyrone Williams and Ray Buchanan clearly were outclassed by the Rams’ wideouts and repeatedly gave Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce 8- and 10-yard cushions. Williams and Buchanon lack the deep speed to compete with the upper-echelon receivers.

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