LOS ANGELES -- Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are out here on the West Coast getting ready for their wild-card round showdown against the Rams – and you got questions. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
Let's get started.
Dylan from Canton, GA
Hey Beek, writing in again. What are the Falcons' three keys to beating the Rams come this Saturday? And RISE UP!
Matt: Hey, Dylan. Glad to see you back here. Let's see, if I had to pick three, I'd go with 1) shut down Todd Gurley and the Rams' running game, 2) pressure Jared Goff and 3) tackle well. If Gurley gets going, that usually spells trouble for opposing teams. Gurley can hurt you in the open field and the added attention he draws also opens things in the Rams passing game as well. Goff is no longer a rookie, but he's still young. And if you can pressure him, make him uncomfortable in the pocket, throw off his timing and hit him (a lot), then he might make some mistakes which could lead to turnovers. Finally, when Gurley or the Rams receivers are in open space, it'll be vital for the Falcons to be sound tacklers – taking proper angles, wrapping up and not letting the Rams get into the second level or make more yards after the catch. The Rams offense can be explosive – just like the Falcons offense.
James from Bristol, United Kingdom
Hey 'Beek, happy new year! First of all, I'm stoked to see the Falcons return to the playoffs. I think the Rams are the preferable opponents over the Saints and Panthers as divisional matchups are always the hardest games, especially in the NFC South. 'Beek, one of my favorite things to see is a QB who can run the ball himself. Cam Newton has made a career of it, and Matt Ryan seems to be doing it more and more. Do you think a mobile QB can make a difference in a game where both sides are loaded with offensive talent at RB, TE and WR?
Matt: Hey, James. Happy new year to you as well! Yes, elusive and mobile quarterbacks can really hurt teams. A running quarterback not only forces the defense to play differently but, as you noted, it's one more threat that needs to be accounted for. Any sort of lapse or breakdown in coverage can lead to big plays, so the effective ones who are also accurate passers on the run put a ton of stress on defenses, too. Matt Ryan is a traditional pocket passer but he's shown that he isn't afraid to tuck it and run when there's lots of yards in front of him for the taking, either. As long as quarterbacks aren't taking a lot of unnecessary hits – sliding in time or getting out of bounds, for example – I think it's OK to run. But they're too valuable to be running too much, in my opinion.
Paul from Flat Rock, AL
Hello, Matt. My thoughts are now that we are in the playoffs, I believe our offense will show up Saturday night. I feel like they will play smooth and efficient because they have not done it in a while. You're thoughts? Thanks.
Matt: Well, Paul, I'll say this much: The entire Dirty Bird Nation is hoping that the Falcons offense has a huge night. It's win-or-go-home time in the NFL, so anything short of your very best won't cut it now. What do I think about the offense? Look, the Falcons offense has been pretty good season all season long – but scoring is down from a year ago, and that's significant. I think it will be crucial for the Falcons to come away with touchdowns in the red zone and not field goals against the Rams.
Rocky from Roswell, GA
Beek! Happy New Year to you and the family. Do you see 20 points as the magic number for the offense? Looking at stats from this season this seems to be the top line that stands out for every win and loss.
Matt: Through 16 games, the Rams are averaging 29.9 points per game, which is tops in the NFL. Keep in mind that they sat a ton of starters during their 34-13 loss to the 49ers in the season finale, too. Otherwise, that number would have been slightly higher. The Falcons are averaging 22.1 points per game on offense. But on defense, Atlanta is allowing just 19.7 points per game, which is eighth-best in the NFL. The Rams are giving up 20.6 points per game. But to your point, something's got to give in this one. If the Falcons defense can keep Los Angeles to 21 points or less in this one, that would be a good thing for Atlanta.
Jonathan from Atlanta, GA
Good morning, Beek. I really enjoy reading your segment. My question is, why can't we put teams away and win comfortably without giving the fans heart attacks?
Matt: Let's hope no one is suffering any heart attacks, Jonathan. Yikes! To answer your question, yes, the Falcons have been in a lot of close games this season. And coming on the heels of a season where the offense put up ridiculous numbers, it's certainly more noticeable (and apparently stressing out fans like you more). But here's the thing: the Falcons have a much better defense now and they're more equipped to win those low-scoring games now – and they have won the majority of them this season, no? They're a more balanced team with a different identity, which includes a stronger defense. Does that make sense? Hope so.
Gregory from Louisville, KY
Happy New Year, Beek. What are the Falcons needs in the draft and will we see Big Poe in as a fullback against the Rams?
Matt: Hey, Gregory. Thanks! I've just started to look at this draft class a little closer to try and figure out what its strengths are – the deepest positions, etc. And while we know the draft order for picks 1-20 already (the non-playoff teams), we still don't know where the Falcons will be picking in April yet. But to your question regarding the draft, I'd like to see the Falcons continue to build up front – on both sides of the ball. If an offensive or defensive linemen high on their draft board should be available when it's time to pick, I'd love to see that selection. As far as Dontari Poe playing in the backfield against the Rams on Saturday goes, let's hope so because that would mean one thing: that the Falcons are likely in a goal-to-goal situation.
Chris from Villa Rica, GA
Thanks for what you do, BEEK ... No question. RISE UP, Falcons Nation.
Matt: Appreciate that, Chris! Thanks for reading all season long. And you're very welcome! Believe me, we pay attention to that stuff.
Rick from Lawrenceville, GA
Hey, Beek! You're doing a great job linking fans to our favorite team. Keep it up, please! This may seem a bit premature, but the regular season is over and we all know that standing pat and not planning ahead only puts you farther behind the competition. So, what do you see the Falcons doing in this year's draft? And what trade moves or free agent signings would you like to see?
Matt: Hey, Rick. As I noted above, I'd like to see the Falcons get deeper and better along the offensive and defensive lines for one. I don't think you can ever have enough effective pass rushers, either. So if one falls in the draft to the Falcons, that'd be great to see as well. Talented pass rushers are highly coveted in the NFL and teams usually re-sign the good ones when they have one. But sometimes they become available in free agency. If the price is right and he fits the Falcons template (which are two important "ifs"), that would be a solid addition. It wouldn't surprise me to see them add depth at cornerback, running back or possibly add a speedy receiver, either, Rick.