WATCH: Falcons defense holds one advantage against struggling Rams
The Atlanta Falcons will host the Los Angeles Rams with both teams aiming to end long losing streaks. The Falcons have fallen in four straight games while the Rams are riding a three-game skid heading into Week 7.
Looking at the matchup, the Rams have one glaring weakness that the Falcons defense will have to take advantage of in order to win.
The Rams can mostly blame their offense for having lost three straight. Los Angeles finished second in yardage last year, but through six weeks of 2019, the Rams are 12th in yards per game. Moreover, Los Angeles has fallen from third in rushing yards per game in 2018 to 22nd in rushing this year.
Sean McVay gets a lot of credit for developing quarterback Jared Goff, and he should, but everything the Rams do is predicated upon being able to establish the run in their 11 personnel, which is one back and one tight end. There's several reasons why the running game has taken such a big step backwards for McVay this year.
The most obvious one is Todd Gurley isn't the same running back. Whether it's injuries or a slowdown because of all the touches he's received over the last few years, Gurley has gone from averaging 4.9 yards per carry last year to 4.2 yards per rush this season. The Rams also don't trust him to touch the ball as often. Gurley is averaging 15.6 touches per game this year as opposed to his 22.5 last year.
The second problem the Rams are encountering is the perceived simplicity of their offense scheme and the blue print of how to stop it provided from the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots last year.
Without a running game, Los Angeles' entire offense seems to stall because its passing attack is completely reliant on the playaction pass. That's far less effective if the opposition isn't fearful Gurley is going to take his next carry to the goal line.
McVay's offense doesn't use too many intricate running plays either, mostly relying upon stretch runs to either sideline and wide receiver endarounds. Teams were aware of this style last year, but they didn't know how to stop it. Well, at least until the Rams faced the Bears and Patriots. Now everyone seems to know what defense gives McVay's few running plays fits.
Since the Super Bowl, Los Angeles' offense has become reactionary. Rather than continuing to run what they do so well despite what the defense is doing, the Rams have been forced to adjust to the defense their facing on the fly the past three weeks, and the results have greatly varied from terrible to so-so.
The last issue the Rams are facing offensively is their aging offensive line. From last year's team, center John Sullivan retired and left guard Rodger Saffold left in free agency for Tennessee. Furthermore, left tackle Andrew Whitworth is now 37. Los Angeles' replacements for Sullivan and Saffold are inexperienced former Day 3 draft picks that aren't playing well enough to help the offense establish a ground game.
A running back dealing with too much mileage, reactionary playcalling and a struggling offensive line is a bad combination for an offense with any type of talent. Whether or not the Falcons defense can take advantage, though, remains the question. Last week when Goff threw for only 78 yards, he was facing the 49ers, who are the No. 1 pass defense and ranked in the Top 10 with 17 sacks this year.
The Falcons are 30th in pass defense, second-to-last in passing touchdowns allowed and tied for last in sacks. That doesn't bode well even against a struggling passing game.
But Atlanta has a chance at slowing down the Rams because of its run defense. While the Falcons are 20th in rushing yards allowed per game, they are ninth in rushing yards yielded per attempt.
If Atlanta can make the Rams one-dimensional like they've been the last three weeks -- Los Angeles has averaged a whopping 47 pass attempts per game during its losing streak, the Falcons have a chance to post their best day on defense of the year.