It’s been an inconsistent season for the Falcons. But the team that showed up to beat the Rams 26-13 in Wild Card play looked like a team that can get back to a Super Bowl this year.
The Rams didn’t make it easy on them. Aaron Donald harassed Matt Ryan all night long. He finished with just half of a sack and one hit, but even on the plays where he didn’t take Ryan down, his presence was felt. His pressure disrupted Ryan’s timing and forced him into less-than-ideal throws.
The Falcons had to settle for field goals on four of six scoring drives. But things shifted for Atlanta in the third quarter, when they finally got a consistent ground game going. That, coupled with the defense’s success in limiting Jared Goff’s chances to hit Todd Gurley with quick, short passes let the Falcons hold on for a win.
Here’s how the Falcons got it done.
The Falcons’ defensive speed limited Todd Gurley
Gurley’s had an MVP-caliber season. So the Falcons’ best chance of success against the Rams was to take him out of the game as much as possible and force Jared Goff to make throws to win it.
Gurley was productive on the ground, with 101 yards. But Goff relies on the ability to hit Gurley with short passes to keep the offense moving, and the Falcons took Gurley essentially out of the passing game. He’s averaged 52.5 receiving yards per game this season with six touchdowns through the air. He had only four catches for 10 yards on Saturday night.
The Falcons defense is much improved this season. They finished 2017 ranked in the top 10 in both scoring and yards allowed. The speed Dan Quinn has installed on defense showed up big on Saturday.
I’ve stated over the pass month that this Falcons team is as dangerous as last year’s team. Of course, the offense isn’t putting up 30+ points a game, but they’re one of the best when everything is clicking. Also, no matter what Julio Jones stats look like, he’s still the best and most dominant WR in the league. The major improvement comes from the defensive side of the ball. Some forget that they were a top-10 defense this year and they have only gotten better. Desmond Trufant was injured last year during their run to the Super Bowl and Alford has stepped his game up. They face my Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round next week. If Carson Wentz wasn’t injured, I’d give the nod to the Eagles, but with the inconsistent play from Nick Foles, the Falcons should be favored.