Win over Falcons would be attention grabber for young Rams

News-DemocratSeptember 14, 2013 

— Pulling off an upset over the Atlanta Falcons would garner the St. Louis Rams some instant respect as well as some national attention.

The Rams (1-0) will play the Falcons (0-1), who advanced to the NFC Championship game before losing to San Francisco 28-24 last season, at noon Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The Rams are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2001 when they won the NFC Championship and advanced to Super Bowl XXXVI before losing to the New England Patriots, while the Falcons are trying to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2007.

"It would mean a lot," Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said of beating the Falcons. "It's the home opener for them, so they are going to be all fired up. They're going to be trying to get back on track.

"It doesn't bother me that we are flying under the radar. I'm not concerned about that. They're a very talented offense, a very talented team overall, and they were a team that was arguably a play or two away from the Super Bowl. They deserve all the respect they get and all the attention they get."

The Rams will be facing their all-time rushing leader in running back Steven Jackson, who left St. Louis after nine seasons as a free agent this past winter.

The Rams were undergoing a youth movement, while the Falcons were looking to improve a rushing attack that ranked 29th among the NFL's 32 teams last season.

"We felt like it was in the best interest of everybody involved," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "This way the story ends real good. You'd like to think certainly his jersey's retired back here whenever he's done.

"We just wish him the best. He's a class guy and was a tremendous leader in the locker room last year."

Jackson had 122 yards from scrimmage last week in the Falcons' 23-17 loss to the Saints, but he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds.

"I think that Steven has a great skill set for what we were looking for in a running back because he's not just a running back, he's a receiving back as well," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He will allow us to not have to run different packages like we've had to do in the past with the change-of-pace back, and allow us to keep the same personnel on the field.

"He's got a tremendous wealth of knowledge in terms of playing the running back position, which will help."

Jackson downplayed the matchup against his former team. However, the Rams' defenders are expecting vintage Jackson.

"Jackson will be trying to truck-stick whoever he can on this defense," Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. 'He's a physical runner anyway, but players seem to play their hardest against the teams they were just on. That's the nature of the NFL."

The term truck stick comes from the Madden video games. It is a maneuver used by larger running backs to lay out linebackers and defensive backs.

"In Madden, you have the two little joysticks and you push the right one when you want the running back to lower his head and run through somebody," Laurinaitis said.

According to Laurinaitis, Jackson's No. 1 target for a truck-stick maneuver will be Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

"I would think he's going after Cortland Finnegan," Laurinaitis said. "Those two were feisty against each other when it was my rookie year and we played Tennessee.

"Cortland was just starting his unbelievable gentleman-like reputation. He's going right for No. 31 (Finnegan)."

The Falcons' offense has impressive arsenal of weapons in addition to Jackson.

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. He led the NFL in completion percentage at 68.6 percent.

Wide receiver Roddy White had 92 catches for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns last season, while wide receiver Julio Jones had 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012.

Both White (ankle) and Jones (knee) are questionable for the game.

Tony Gonzalez ranks No. 1 all-time among tight ends in receptions (1,245), receiving yards (14,304) and touchdowns (104).

"Very, very difficult to cover with linebackers, if you're lucky," Fisher said of Gonzalez. "Then he's got such good size and he bodies you out and keeps drives alive against the (defensive backs).

"He's been a great red zone target all of his career. I think one of the things people don't realize is that he's a good blocker. He's a solid blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage, so he helps in their run game as well."

Ryan was sacked three times amid pressure that played a key role in the loss to the Saints.

The Rams, who tied for the NFL lead with 55 sacks last season, had four sacks in their 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.

Defensive end Robert Quinn led the way with three sacks.

"I've been saying for a while that he's special and he's just going to keep getting better, and I think that's scary for opposing offenses," Rams defensive end Chris Long said of Quinn. "I've been saying he's a Top 5, eventually a Top 3 pass rusher.

"He's as dangerous as anybody in the league. He's just going to continue to show it, and it's scary how good he can be."

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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