ST. LOUIS — Should you be more encouraged or discouraged by the Rams’ 31-24 loss at Atlanta on Sunday afternoon?
Going on the road to face an NFC finalist that was coming off a season-opening loss, a double-digit defeat would not have been surprising. That the Rams rallied to make the fourth quarter worth watching says a lot about their resolve.
On the other hand, as much as was stacked in Atlanta’s favor, the Falcons turned out to be susceptible. They lost numerous players to injury, including Steven Jackson after his opening-drive TD. The Rams knew that without Jackson the Falcons wouldn’t be able to rush effectively, but they still allowed Matt Ryan to pass for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, the Rams finished with more negatives than positives — in my checklist, anyway.
Sam Bradford’s 352 yards passing. Yes, that total is inflated because the Rams’ rushing game went away when they fell behind by three touchdowns and, as Bradford admitted, the Falcons’ defense turned soft. Still, to finish with almost as many passing yards as Atlanta — not to mention more overall yards — is an indication that the Rams’ offense has improved.
No sacks. Even with right tackle Rodger Saffold missing most of the game, the Rams extended their streak of not allowing a sack to four games. Saffold told me last week that his line mates are not counting the two games at the end of last season because this is a different line and a new year. Why quibble? Either way, it’s a much better streak than the one that preceded it — a sack allowed in 30 consecutive games.
Two touchdowns by Tavon Austin. The rookie showed some nimble footwork and a nose for the end zone in scoring his first two TDs. You have to like how the Rams got him involved, too. He rushed twice and was targeted on 12 passes, finishing with eight receptions. His day should have been better, though. Austin missed at least two passes he should have caught and he did little with his four punt returns.
No fumbles by Isaiah Pead. Of course, his chances were limited. He rushed only once for one yard and made two receptions for 18 yards.
Johnny Hekker’s punting. A 49-yard net average is impressive, but it’s also about what we’ve come to expect.
Falling behind 21-0. At least they left themselves plenty of time to rally. They rallied nicely, too, but the Rams never had possession with a chance to tie the score.
Too many short pass attempts in the early going. Was this play-calling or Bradford’s decision-making? Either way, it was too reminiscent of last season. That’s not supposed to happen after the off-season influx of speed at the skill positions.
Seven more penalties. Whoever said preseason problems tend to carry over into the regular season was right on. The Rams continued to hurt themselves with undisciplined mistakes. Four penalties were committed by return teams that left the Rams starting drives inside their own 15. “It was frustrating,” coach Jeff Fisher said in his postgame comments. “When you get backed up 10 yards, we have to start with bad field position and it makes it hard, especially when you are behind.”
An offsides on Chris Long also was costly. On Atlanta’s opening possession, the Falcons faced third-and-12 from their 18-yard-line but that turned into third-and-seven when Long was penalized. Instead of going three-and-out, Atlanta turned the third-and-seven into a first down and, from there, marched to a touchdown.
Bradford had an interception returned for a TD, again. While Daryl Richardson should have caught the swing pass — the ball bounced off his hands — at least half of the blame goes to Bradford. It was an ill-advised attempt with a defender waiting to slam Richardson and Bradford could have showed more touch on the throw.
Knee injury to Saffold. Unlike the opener, when Saffold returned after a few missed plays, he did not come back Sunday. That he was seen on crutches after the game does not bode well for a quick return, either.
One catch by Jared Cook. After his big opening week, the Falcons were determined not to let Cook get the best of them. The Rams didn’t adjust properly. I also wonder if Cook moved as freely after he fell while making a somewhat awkward dive on an attempt to catch an overthrown pass.
Burned secondary. They gave up only one play longer than 25 yards, an 81-yard touchdown to Julio Jones. Though cornerback Janoris Jenkins was beat on the play, he didn’t get the help he was supposed to from safety Rodney McLeod. Even though the Falcons threw 43 times, the Rams did not come up with an interception. To allow 33 catches even when the Rams knew the Falcons weren’t going to run the ball was the difference in the game. It seemed like when the Falcons needed to make a play, the Rams could not stop them.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.