It was not long ago that the Falcons traveled to Los Angeles for a wildcard playoff matchup against the Rams, leaving with a well-earned 26-13. A lot has changed since then, however, and the Rams (3-3) now come to Atlanta for a game against the Falcons (1-5) that both teams need to win.
The recent acquisition of cornerback Jalen Ramsey aside, many of the same key players who squared off in that wildcard game will be back for this weekend's game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Rams coach Sean McVay is familiar with this Atlanta squad, and he's not buying into the Falcons' record as a reflection of how good this team can be.
"I think the record is really misleading," McVay said. "I think when you look at them [they are a] really really good football team that has had some unfortunate breaks towards the end of the games, and they've played some tough teams."
The Falcons are coming off a heartbreaking 34-33 loss in Arizona after their comeback efforts fell just short. Offensively, Atlanta scored its most points of the season against the Cardinals, and the Falcons have now scored over 30 points in their past two games.
They face a Rams defense that is giving up 25.7 points per game but is among the middle of the pack against both the run and the pass.
"You look at the offense, a lot of firepower," McVay said. "You have an MVP player leading the way in Matt Ryan and then you've got Julio [Jones]. I mean, [Austin] Hooper is playing unbelievable. I think [Calvin] Ridley and [Mohamed] Sanu are two of the more underrated receivers in this league, and I've always been impressed with what Devonta [Freeman] does."
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons' defense is working to overcome some mistakes that have plagued them thus far in 2019. Atlanta is seeking to generate more sacks and sure up its coverage in the secondary, but the Falcons will face a Rams team that gained just 157 total yards in Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers.
"Defensively, a lot of speed," McVay said of the Falcons. "A lot of sound play on all three levels. I think you've seen McKinley do a great job. Obviously, you certainly feel Grady Jarrett. And then Deion Jones I think is one of the best linebackers in this league with his ability to play sideline-to-sideline."
McVay pointed to one play in the Falcons-Cardinals game that is indicative of just how small the margin for error can be for defenders in the NFL. The play in question occurred at the start of the second quarter and was a 58-yard pass to Damiere Byrd that was fit into a tight window between Isaiah Oliver and Ricardo Allen.
Fans might better remember this play as the one that was reviewed as a possible fumble right at the goal line.
"It's such a fine line week in and week out," McVay said. "The one ball that got over the top, they were running kind of a little bootleg and Kyler Murray launches a perfect throw right over the top and kind of hit a non-normal route off of a post-action type deal. It was a great throw and catch, but I know it's something that coach Quinn would like to be able to prevent those. There's such a small difference in some of those plays that you make and don't. And you look at that play, in particular, it was probably six inches away from getting batted down by [Allen]."