First look at the Rams’ playoff opponent: the Atlanta Falcons

Tevin Coleman
The Rams will take on the Atlanta Falcons and running back Tevin Coleman, center, in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night at the Coliseum.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and many other Atlanta Falcons players have NFL playoff experience. So does third-year coach Dan Quinn, who guided the Falcons to the Super Bowl last season.

The Rams have not been to the playoffs since 2004, only six players on the roster have postseason experience and Sean McVay is in his first season as an NFL coach.

But McVay does not foresee a disadvantage when the Rams play host to the Falcons on Saturday night in a NFC wild-card playoff game at the Coliseum.

“There’s a lot of value in experience,” McVay said Monday during a news conference in Thousand Oaks, but added, “for a younger team, we’ve demonstrated a maturity.”


The Rams (11-5) are seeded third, the Falcons (10-6) sixth. If the Rams win, they would advance to play the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. Atlanta would advance to play at No. 1 Philadelphia with a victory.

Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth played in six playoff games for the Cincinnati Bengals.

After the Rams loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the regular-season finale, Whitworth said he could serve as a sounding board for younger teammates.

“It’s a bigger energy, it’s a great environment, all those things,” Whitworth said of the playoffs. “But the truth is, it’s the same field, the same situations you were in in the regular season when games were big.


“You just have to go out and play your style of football, be the best version of yourself you can be.”

The Rams got some positive news Monday: Starting cornerback Troy Hill, who came out of the game against the 49ers, did not suffer a concussion, McVay said. He added that Hlill “should be in good shape” to play against the Falcons.

Linebacker Mark Barron, sidelined the last two games because of an Achilles injury, “feels good” McVay said.

“Things are looking good for him,” he said.

Against the 49ers, McVay held out most starters so that they could heal and be rested for the playoffs.

On Monday, he reiterated that he was not concerned about a loss of timing, once again pointing to the Rams’ Week 9 rout of the New York Giants after an open date. Before Sunday’s game, quarterback Jared Goff and other skill position players went through drills to maintain timing.

“We feel good about them being able to kind of stay on track with where we left off,” McVay said.

The Falcons do not boast the seemingly unstoppable offense that carried them to the Super Bowl last season, but they remain potent.


Former USC coach Steve Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator for a team that is averaging 22.1 points per game, which ranks 15th in the NFL.

The Falcons rank eighth in yards (364.8 per game), eighth in passing (249.5) and 13th in rushing (115.4).

Ryan, the NFL most valuable player last season, has passed for 4,095 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.

Jones has 88 catches, three for touchdowns, and receiver Mohamed Sanu has five touchdown catches.

Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have combined for 12 touchdowns.

“No discredit or disrespect to the great players they have in their locker room,” Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner said, “but we don’t game plan for players in particular. We game plan schemes and concepts.

“If you go into a game worrying about a name, then you lost already.”

McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach the previous two seasons, are preparing for an Atlanta defense that is giving up 19.7 points per game. The Falcons rank ninth in total defense (318.4 yards per game), ninth in rushing defense (104.1) and 12th in pass defense (214.3).


Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal are the Falcons’ leading tacklers. End Adrian Clayborn has 9½ sacks, linebacker Vic Beasley five.

Throughout the season, McVay has acknowledged his mistakes that resulted from lack of experience as a head coach. He said he has learned from them, and would continue to rely heavily on staff members in the postseason. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, for example, is in his 40th NFL season.

“There are great opportunities to be able to rely on a Wade Phillips, who’s been through things like this before,” McVay said. “And guys on your staff that have had more playoff experience than you’ve had. ... We’ve got a bunch of great people in this building that I can really rely on and feel comfort in that.”


Defensive back Blake Countess is in concussion protocol, McVay said. Countess was injured when he hit 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin on a play that left Goodwin with a concussion. Countess was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the play. … Rams players usually have Tuesday off, but with the short week of preparation they will participate in an expanded walkthrough.

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