Rams-Falcons study session: Defense

EARTH CITY, Mo. – A look back at the St. Louis Rams’ 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday after reviewing the coaches’ film.

The Big Play: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan hits wide receiver Julio Jones for an 81-yard touchdown.

Jones’ touchdown gave the Falcons a 14-0 lead early as he gets past cornerback Janoris Jenkins for the game’s biggest play.

The Rams had their four defensive end alignment up front with William Hayes and Eugene Sims on the inside and ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long standing up on the outside. Long and Hayes are bunched on the left side of the line over the right tackle. Linebackers Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis creep to the line of scrimmage pre-snap.

On the back end, Jenkins is in the slot against Jones, playing about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage. The Falcons are in a four-receiver set with two to the left and two to the right with Ryan in the shotgun.

At the snap, the Rams blitz with Ogletree and Laurinaitis. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers picks up Laurinaitis and Ogletree seems to take a step in the wrong direction before getting going at the quarterback, preventing him from getting to Ryan.

Playing outside leverage with safety Rodney McLeod inside of him, Jenkins gets caught flat-footed as Jones runs an option route. As Jenkins sets his feet, Jones opts to go outside of him while McLeod sneaks toward the middle.

Ryan drops in a perfect throw, and with McLeod taking one misstep inside, he’s unable to help over the top. Jones takes it the rest of the way for the score.

Hidden Play: Ryan hits running back Jason Snelling for 22 yards on third-and-1 at Atlanta’s 29 with just under two minutes to go to seal the Falcons’ win.

The Rams have their normal front four in with their hands on the ground and Ogletree on the line to the left. Safety T.J. McDonald is also lined up to the left, just outside of Ogletree opposite tight end Tony Gonzalez.

The Falcons are in an offset I-formation with Snelling in the fullback role and Rodgers at tailback. Two receivers are aligned left with Jones in the slot before he motions back to the right side with Jenkins shadowing.

At the snap, Ogletree and McDonald blitz from the left side as Ryan fakes a handoff to Rodgers, who makes the play happen but diving into Ogletree, who subsequently runs into McDonald, nullifying two blitzers with one block.

Meanwhile, Laurinaitis reads the play and sees Snelling sneaking out into the flat but just isn’t quite able to get there. Snelling hauls it in and gains 22 to move the chains and effectively put the game away.

Other Observations:

  • The Rams were a bit more active with blitzes in this game, sending at least one extra rusher at Ryan on 40 percent of his drop backs by my count. The results weren’t so good, either, as Ryan completed 13-of-17 passes against the rush for 209 yards and the touchdown to Jones.

  • While Jenkins was partially responsible for Jones’ touchdown, he did a nice job earlier against him on a double move that Jenkins leveraged outside, forcing an incompletion.

  • Ryan was sacked only two times but there’s little doubt he was sore after this one. He took a beating for most of the day, especially in the second half after the Falcons became one-dimensional. Quinn led the charge with five quarterback hits and three hurries by my count to go along with a sack.

  • Long didn’t have a sack but he was active in the pass rush as well with three hurries and two hits.

  • Linebacker Alec Ogletree was strong against the run and quite active early but he had some issues in coverage. He was too quick to jump inside on an early pass that went to fullback Bradie Ewing for a gain of 14 and a bit slow to react on running back Steven Jackson’s 8-yard touchdown catch. He had some good moments in coverage, too, including a pass breakup against Jackson on the second offensive play, but he still seems to get caught guessing a bit occasionally in coverage.

  • Defensive tackle Michael Brockers wasn’t as dominant against the run this week as he was last week, but he still has moments where he simply shuts the run game down. Jackson’s first run of the game went nowhere, in no small part because of Brockers’ ability to push the pocket. He did get taken out of the play easily on Snelling’s touchdown run late in the game, though.

  • One area the Rams are getting better with is batted passes. They knocked down two more and I had them down for three last week. If teams are going to continue to get the ball out quick, getting arms up to knock down passes will be important moving forward.

  • Defensive end Eugene Sims only played 26 snaps but he made the most of them and not just because he registered a sack. Atlanta had trouble moving him in the run game and he sets the edge as well as any Rams end.

  • It was another rough day for cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who seemed to get caught out of position a couple times.

  • I won’t have a full breakdown for special teams but it’s worth noting how good punter Johnny Hekker has been for the Rams so far this year. He’s consistently getting hang time and combining it with direction to help the Rams’ coverage units, which have also been quite good the first two weeks.