Falcons at Rams
When: 4:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Los Angeles
On TV: Fox
When Jared Goff was preparing to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft earlier this year, many scouts and observers compared him to Matt Ryan, the veteran quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.
The struggling Los Angeles Rams (4-8) get a chance to compare Goff against the genuine article on Sunday when the Falcons (7-5) attempt to bolster their faltering playoff push at the Coliseum.
Goff is expected to make his fourth NFL start after losing his first three despite playing solidly for the NFL’s worst offense.
The 22-year-old rookie’s big arm and quick decision-making in college reminded many of Ryan, but Atlanta coach Dan Quinn sees another similarity.
“Both of them are very good competitors, and I think that’s one of the things (about) Matt that people talk about a lot,” Quinn said.
“He is tough. He’s going to let it rip and take the shot as a competitor. And Goff, I know, has a lot of those same qualities. He singlehandedly got hot in some games through college, and I saw that reason alone why people want to say, ‘This is the dude to build it around.’ And you see that in the play now, to say that they’ve really got something there.”
Ryan has the Falcons tied for the top spot in the NFC South with a standout season, leading them to an NFL-best 32.2 points per game by throwing 27 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions.
He hasn’t been perfect, as evidenced by two game-deciding interceptions last week in a narrow loss to Kansas City.
But the nine-year pro has the Falcons in position for their first playoff berth since 2012 with a strong finish despite two losses in their past three games.
Ryan is just the latest elite quarterback faced by the Rams this season after Drew Brees and Tom Brady shredded their once-vaunted defense in the previous two weeks.
Los Angeles has lost three straight and seven of eight, reducing its playoff chances to a whisper heading into the final month.
“We’re struggling” on offense,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after they went 1 for 12 on third downs in a blowout loss to New England last week. “I can’t blame Jared. I thought Jared did some really good things.”
Here are more things to watch when these former divisional rivals get back together:
POINT BREAK: The Rams have scored 180 points this season — a whopping 206 fewer than the Falcons.
That yawning disparity could mean trouble for the Rams, but they also see an opportunity: Atlanta has the NFL’s 32nd-ranked pass defense in the absence of injured cornerback Desmond Trufant, and it should provide ample opportunities for Goff to make plays downfield and to turn this into a high-scoring affair.
The Rams’ awful running game gives them little reason to hold back in the passing game, and they’re hoping to have top receiver Tavon Austin back in uniform after he missed last week’s game.
JULIO’S TOE: Julio Jones, the Falcons’ superstar receiver, could miss the game or be limited after struggling with turf toe this week.
The Rams have fared decently against elite receivers this season, and highly paid cornerback Trumaine Johnson realizes he could be isolated in coverage on Jones this week.
Los Angeles’ defense is eager for a redemptive game after blowing a 10-point lead on the final two drives against Miami in the Rams’ previous home game three weeks ago, followed by two straight humiliations on the road.
AVOIDING COLLAPSE: The Falcons have been caught atop the NFC South by Tampa Bay, which lost to the Rams earlier this season. Atlanta started 6-1 last season before collapsing, but this trip to Los Angeles begins a slate of very winnable games for Ryan and the Falcons against four NFC teams with losing records.
FINALLY HOME: The Rams’ brutal schedule in their homecoming season kept them away from Los Angeles for eight of their first 12 games.
Now that the season is all but lost, the Rams have three of their final four games at home, including games on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
Los Angeles is just 1-3 at home, losing three straight since its official homecoming game way back on Sept. 18.
WRAP IT UP: With their 13th consecutive non-winning regular season already locked up, the Rams are one loss away from clinching their fifth straight losing season under Fisher, who might not be back next season despite his contract extension.
Fisher is likely to get a chilly reception from Coliseum fans tired of the Rams’ losing ways and inept offense, but a victory would boost his chances of getting to fulfill that new contract.