Led by Aaron Donald, the Rams' front seven garners a lot of praise for its ability to create chaos in its opponent's backfield. That acclaim is well-deserved, but LA's linebackers, specifically Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree, will also need to be sharp in pass coverage when they take on the Falcons Sunday afternoon.
Barron, who played at Alabama with Julio Jones, has emerged as a leader on defense for the Rams. The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder often covers tight ends in LA's scheme, and on the year, he's given up 47 catches on 63 targets for 428 yards and two touchdowns. Barron has grabbed a pair of interceptions, as well – one in Tampa Bay, the other in Arizona.
"He's got the run and hit factor for sure," head coach Dan Quinn said. "You can see through his career whether it was at safety or at linebacker, and now that he's even closer to the ball, you see that impact that he's making. He's been an impressive guy to me on tape. The speed, length and hitting – he's somebody that I've got a lot of respect for and our team does too."
Ogletree, a native of Newnan, Ga., has allowed 25 catches on 35 targets for 239 yards and a touchdown. After watching film, the University of Georgia product knew he'd have a tough assignment on his hands in Week 14.
"The tight ends are coming along really well, and they're throwing really well right now," he told AtlantaFalcons.com Wednesday. "So it's going to be a challenge for all of us. ... We just have to be able to match up and win our one-on-one battles."
Atlanta's tight end corps has been a man down since Jacob Tamme got injured on Oct. 30 and underwent season-ending surgery. Austin Hooper has since stepped into the No. 1 TE spot, and so far, the coaches are pleased with how well he's grown into his new role.
The Stanford alum has "gotten better each week," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who added that, while the third-round pick has made some rookie mistakes, he's consistently improved as a receiver and blocker. And even though Hooper has amassed only three catches in his past three appearances, Shanahan believes he fared well vs. the Chiefs.
"I know the numbers and stuff in the pass game haven't come, but I thought he had one of his best games last week separating," Shanahan said. "He got open and stuff. The ball didn't come his way, but it's only a matter of time before it does."
When asked how Hooper has adjusted to being at the top of the depth chart, Quinn told reporters he is pleased with the rookie's progress.
"Hoop is a guy who is ascending," Quinn said. "It's a good question because he's a football junkie so he was kind of learning and Jacob is actually a really good mentor for him even when he's been hurt. He's such a terrific teammate that he's challenged him and tried to find a role for how to help Hoop now. That part of Hoop's game I thought over the last probably two weeks – I've noticed it even more in terms of practice and his explosion coming out. He looks good."