John Madden
John Madden
As Falcons fall, Rams soar
By John Madden

Coming into this game, the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in a heckova hole. After watching them lose 36-0 on Monday Night Football, it's obvious they're going to have a hard time digging themselves out of it.

As impressed as I am with their performance, Monday night was not a very good test for this St. Louis Rams defense. The Falcons came into the game with little hope and played ineptly. The Rams did a great job keeping pressure on the Falcons' offense and the loud St. Louis fans disrupted the Falcons offensive rhythm.

During the preseason there was speculation the Falcons could be a serious contender for the playoffs and maybe even the Super Bowl. There were a couple of reasons for the speculation.

One, last season they made the playoffs went to Lambeau Field and became the first team in NFL history to beat the Packers at home in the playoffs.

Second, they had a strong defense returning that was ranked tenth in the NFC last season.

But the biggest reason for their anticipated ascent to becoming one of the top teams in the league was their quarterback Michael Vick. Because of last season's performance, Vick became one of the most talked about players in the NFL. The Falcons looked like they could ride Vick all the way to the Super Bowl.

But then Vick went down with a broken fibula in the preseason and everything changed. His injury seemed to take all the wind out of the sails of not only the offense, but of the entire organization. His injury may not have been the only one to impact the team, but it was definitely the most devastating.

After the injury, the Falcons thought they could keep the team's ship afloat until Vick could return from his injury. But that's proven easier said than done. This offense was built around Vick and his amazing athleticism. He has the ability to be any number of things as a quarterback. He can be a pocket passer, he can throw from the shotgun, he can run and throw or he can just run.

Defenses play a completely different game against him because of his versatility. So when a guy like Vick goes down, the team's entire offensive scheme changes. But especially when you have a player like Doug Johnson -- the diametric opposite of Vick -- helming the offense.

Another problem facing the Falcons is their lack of a running game. With no running game, the Falcons are leaving themselves with a ton of third and long situations. That's led to the Falcons' defense being left on the field longer. Because they have a smaller defense, they're more prone to wearing down and getting exposed in the second half of games.

All of these things have contributed to the Falcons losing five games in a row.

It's going to be interesting to see if and when Vick does return. Some quarterbacks who don't move around a lot could come back from an injury like his if they're 75 or 80 percent. Because of the way he plays, he must come back at 100 percent.

I talked to Vick before the game and he thought he'd be able to play in a couple of weeks. Personally, I don't know if he'll be 100 percent in a couple of weeks and I know coach Dan Reeves doesn't want him to come back until he is.

On the other hand the St. Louis Rams looked real good. They aren't back to where they were a couple years ago when they were known as the "greatest show on turf". Back then they had Marshall Faulk, four excellent wide receivers, and an extremely accurate Kurt Warner.

They currently have a good team with QB Marc Bulger and WR's Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. But they're still searching for their third and fourth wide receiver or a running back who'll give them speed after Bruce and Holt. They may not have four great receivers anymore, but they have arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL.

This offseason the Rams improved their offensive line with the acquisition of RT Kyle Turley from the New Orleans Saints. The combination of a good offensive line and Bulger with his quick release and those two receivers make for a pretty good offense. Eventually they'll get Faulk back and he'll give them the speed and big play threat out of the backfield.

On the defensive side of the ball, I was impressed with the speed and intensity this team played with as they threw the shutout. Atlanta may be down right now, but they still are a professional football team and shutting down an NFL offense isn't an easy thing to do. But the Rams' defense did it!

When looking at the Rams it's easy to see they are built for artificial turf on offense and defense. This defense is filled with young, quick players who swarm to the ball and make good tackles.

It looks like the only competition this season for the division title will come from the Seattle Seahawks. The San Francisco 49ers have taken a step or two backwards and the Arizona Cardinals haven't put together a team that can compete in the NFC West.

As we approach the halfway point of the season, we're going to see who wants it more: the Seahawks or the Rams.
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