The Los Angeles Rams will hit the road and head to the Southern Gem in Georgia known as Atlanta in Week 7. The Falcons are the third NFC South team that the Rams play in the first half of the season. The Falcons posted a losing record after an injury-riddled season but will be looking to get back on track when the 2017 NFC Champions host the 2019 NFC Champions in the Rams.
The Rams and Falcons last played in the NFC Wild Card in 2018. In what was Rams head coach, Sean McVay’s first playoff game, the Falcons came out on top as they defended their NFC title.
Week 7’s matchup will be a flashback to the old NFC West in which the Rams and Falcons were in the same division.
Week 1 – at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 2 – vs. New Orleans, 4:25 ET – Opponent Preview
Week 3 – at Cleveland, 8:20 p.m. ET (SNF) – Opponent Preview
Week 4 – vs. Tampa Bay, 4:25 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 5 – at Seattle, 8:20 p.m. ET (TNF) – Opponent Preview
Week 6 – vs. San Francisco, 4:25 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 7 – at Atlanta, 1 p.m. ET
Atlanta lost Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, their two best players on defense in the very first game of the 2019 season, and safety Ricardo Allen just weeks later. On the offensive side of the ball, Devonta Freeman had a foot injury all year, and guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco got placed on IR.
The Falcons lost three of the next four games after starting in Philadelphia to drop to 1-4 on the year. However, after a win against Tampa Bay, they continued to win against NFC East opponents in the New York Giants and Washington Redskins to get back to .500.
It was all downhill from there. Starting in Week 10, the Falcons suffered a five-game losing streak. The team lost at Cleveland before dropping one the buzzer on a last-second field goal to the Dallas Cowboys. The losing streak was capped off by a loss to the lowly Packers who had lost five of six coming in.
Afterward, The Falcons finished the 2018 season as one of the hottest teams in football, putting up huge offensive numbers and ending December on a three-game win streak.
Despite a rough season that focused on injuries and the offensive line, the Falcons found a bright spot in rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The rookie out of Alabama broke onto the scene in Week 3, and the team will look for him to take the next step in year two.
Biggest Offseason Gains/ Losses
Added: S J.J. Wilcox, DT Ra’Shede Hageman, OL John Wetzel, DE Chris Odom, DT Tyeler Davison, S Chris Cooper, S Afolabi Laguda, DE Adrian Clayborn, G Adam Gettis, RB Kenjon Barner, TE Luke Stocker, G James Carpenter, G Jamon Brown,
The most significant loss of the offseason for the Falcons was running back Tevin Coleman. With rookie running back Ito Smith and Week 17 standout Brian Hill on the roster, there was no shot of Coleman re-signing with the Falcons.
Outside of Coleman, the Falcons also let go one of the best special teams players in the NFL in Justin Bethel. A positive for the Falcons was achieving offensive and defensive line depth. The Falcons struggled to block for Matt Ryan last season and opening up holes in the run game. The defensive line was also lack-luster as Takk McKinley was the sack leader with only seven sacks.
As far as additions go, it would be hard not to mention the signing of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The former Buccaneers head coach returns to Atlanta where he called the offense from 2012-2014.
On the player side of things, Clayborn also returns to Atlanta as well and will add depth to the defensive line while former Rams guard Jamon Brown, adds depth on the other side of the ball.
A Look at the Draft
The Falcons’ first pick in the first round was 14th overall where they selected guard Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College. Lindstrom was the best guard in the draft and gives the Falcons a highly skilled guard to replace the retired Andy Levitre.
In a surprising move towards the end of the first round, the Rams traded back with the Falcons for a second and third-round pick. There, the Falcons selected offensive tackle Kaleb McGary out of Washington.
The Falcons key to success during their most recent Super Bowl run was their offensive line. Drafting two offensive linemen to block for Matt Ryan should create success for the Falcons in 2019 and beyond.
Fast forward to the fourth round and day three, and the Falcons selected defensive back Kendall Sheffield out of Ohio State. Sheffield is a speedy cornerback who will give the Falcons depth with the loss of Brian Poole. Twenty four picks later, the Falcons selected defensive end, John Cominsky. Cominsky was a Senior Bowl and small school standout out of Charlotte and could be a key piece on the defense this season.
In the sixth round, the Falcons selected running back Qadree Ollison. Ollison is the type of power back that the Falcons have lacked in recent years. With the last two selections, the team selected another defensive back in Jordan Miller out of Washington and an offensive weapon in Marcus Green out of small school Lousiana Monroe.
Biggest on-field Question
The biggest on-field question of the 2019-2020 season will be the performance of the defense. The Falcons finished 25th in total defense in 2018. Vic Beasley took a considerable step back from his 2016 sack-leading season. Beasley has just ten sacks in the last two years combined after recording 15.5 in 2016. The secondary was also very underwhelming. Outside of breakout safety Damontae Kazee, the defense ranked 27th against the pass last season. The defensive side of the ball must improve for the Falcons to succeed in 2019.
Depth Chart Analysis
Quarterback: Matt Ryan has always been at the helm for the Falcons since he was drafted. He has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL and threw for almost 5,000 yards last season. Veteran Matt Schaub and a young Kurt Benkert are the backups.
Running Back: Devonta Freeman’s extension is in effect for another two seasons. The question is, can he remain healthy? He will be the starting running back for at least the next two years. Ito Smith will be a factor in the passing game, and rookie Qadree Ollison will serve as the power back. The question is what the role will be in the offense for Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner.
Wide Receiver: The Falcons arguably have the best receiving core in the NFL. Julio Jones is one of the best in the game. Mohamed Sanu and first 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley man the second and third wide receiver spots. The Falcons also have Justin Hardy and 2018 sixth round pick Russell Gage. The Falcons depth at receiver is deep and filled with a lot of talent that would give any defense a nightmare.
Tight End: Austin Hooper has been a very underrated tight Ene the past two seasons. He silently caught 660 yards and four touchdowns that led him to become a Pro Bowl alternate. The Falcons recently signed Luke Stocker from Tennessee and already have Logan Paulsen and Eric Saubert.
Left Tackle: Jake Matthews became a first time Pro Bowler this season after allowing only 2.5 sacks. He signed an extension in July 2018. He is the team’s left tackle of the future. Behind Matthews is newly signed lineman John Wetzel.
Left Guard: Veteran James Carpenter is the favorite to be the starting left guard in September. The former Jet has been a solid guard his entire career and is a veteran presence for Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Adam Gettis will be the backup left guard.
Right Guard: Rookie Chris Lindstrom was drafted to protect the Falcons’ former MVP. Coming out of Boston College, he was one of the best offensive linemen in this year’s draft. Former Rams and Giants guard Jamon Brown will see backup right guard duties.
Right Tackle: Kaleb McGary and Ty Sambrailo will battle it out for the right tackle job. McGary is a behemoth at 6’8 and 324 pounds. The Falcons drafted a tackle to protect Ryan, revamp the running game, and provide depth at a position they were lacking. Sambrailo is a former Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos and could become a breakout candidate in 2019.
Defensive End: Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley and Adrian Clayborn headline the Falcons pass rushing attack. They both have underwhelmed in recent years and should rebound this 2019 season. Chris Odom and Rookie John Cominksy provide decent depth if anyone gets hurt at any point in the season.
Defensive Tackle: The Falcons have serious depth at defensive tackle, but one of the first names that come to mind on the defensive line is Grady Jarrett. The Super Bowl LI standout will return to the Falcons on a franchise tag in hopes of getting a big contract. On the opposite side, Falcons expect to see Jack Crawford next to Jarrett. Crawford had six sacks in 2018.
In training camp, there will be competition between second-year tackle Deadrin Senat and newly acquired free agent Tyeler Davison from the rival Saints. Davison was a rotational player for the Saints who recorded two sacks. He made the most out of his snaps last season.
Linebackers: Deion Jones is one of the best linebackers in the league when he is healthy. Last season he was landed on IR with a foot injury. In just the six games that he played, Jones recorded two interceptions, and one got returned for a touchdown. De’Vondre Campbell was the tackle leader for the Falcons last season, and the former Minnesota Gopher has been a standout on defense. Beasley is another big name that the Falcons have in their linebacking core. One standout from the 2018 season was Foyesade Oluokon as he was graded Top 5 in the league in tackling performance by Pro Football Focus.
Defensive Backs: Damontae Kazee was a massive surprise in the Falcons secondary last season. He was the 2018 interception leader with seven interceptions after replacing an injured Ricardo Allen in Week 3. Desmond Trufant has always been a staple in the secondary, and Isaiah Oliver had a decent rookie season. Oliver will play the second cornerback spot after the departure of Robert Alford. Allen looks to come back to play free safety, and Keanu Neal returns to play strong safety after suffering a torn ACL. J.J. Wilcox signed for safety depth due to the severity of the injuries that occurred to Neal and Allen.
2019 Outlook: The Falcons look to return to Super Bowl contenders. After the injury-plagued 2018 season, the Falcons will return at full health and be a serious NFC contender. With one of the best offenses in the league and a very young defense with a lot of potential, the Falcons look to move on from 2018 and start fresh in 2019. With a strong draft and a lot of depth, will Matt Ryan and the Falcons return to the playoffs?