Coleman presents Rams with matchup problems

Coleman presents Rams with matchup problems

ATLANTA - For all the talk that St. Louis is obsessed with stopping Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in tonight's second-round NFC playoff game, the Rams will be just as concerned about Rod Coleman.

They should be. In a 34-17 loss at the Georgia Dome in Week 2, Coleman's name barely registered on the post-game statistics: two tackles, one quarterback pressure. The defensive tackle's impact, however, was profound.

Just ask him.

"Nothing," Rod Coleman said with a wide smile this week. "I did absolute, 100 percent nothing. OK, well, maybe a little bit, but that was just routine pressure. You see that every day."

A mock attempt at modesty hardly changes the perception of the performance Coleman gave in his first regular-season game for Atlanta. Consistently drawing double- and sometimes triple-team blockers, Coleman showed why Falcons president and general manager Rich McKay designated him as the club's No. 1 goal in free agency.

Perhaps defensive coordinator Ed Donatell put it best when he described Coleman as having "a lot of upper-body violence." Six months after Atlanta owner Arthur Blank gave him a $10 million signing bonus to leave the Oakland Raiders, Coleman made the afternoon miserable for center Andy McCollum and right guard Adam Timmerman, stalwarts of St. Louis' offensive for nearly all of the last six years.

Pressure from Coleman and the rest of his teammates on the line contributed dramatically to the Rams' 30 measly yards rushing, the third-worst single-game performance by an Atlanta opponent.

Jasper joined defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith and strong safety Bryan Scott in a combined five sacks of St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger. Add that number to abundant plays in which the Falcons knocked him down or caused him to make a hurried throw, and Bulger hoped he wouldn't see these guys again.

"We don't know if it's going to be easier," Bulger said this week. "We know Atlanta, that's one of their strengths is against the run. It's crucial in the playoffs. We've got to hold the ball a little bit; we can't just go back, throw the ball every down. It's going to be critical to us to get some more yards."

RAMS SHUFFLE STARTERS

Since their last game, the Rams (9-8) have placed left guard Chris Dishman on season-ending injured reserve and given the job to seven-year veteran Tom Nütten. Blaine Saipaia took over as the starting right tackle in Week 14 when coach Mike Martz had seen enough of Grant Williams.

As Coleman pounds most of the night on Timmerman and McCollum, Kerney's ability to overpower Saipaia could break down the Rams further. Kerney is a sixth-year veteran and a first-time Pro Bowl selection who finished fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks. Saipaia bounced among New Orleans, Tennessee, Denver and Oakland from 2000 through preseason this year, but he had just one game experience before St. Louis signed him the day before the season opener.

Saturday night will mark just his sixth NFL start and 11th game overall.

"I don't have any past experience," Saipaia told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when asked about the Falcons. "I'd say that their defense is relentless. I think they just rely on their tenacity."

One reason Atlanta (11-5) led the league with 48 sacks, tied Baltimore as the eighth-best unit against the run and improved in a one-year span from last to 14th in total defense is line coach Bill Johnson's tackle rotation.

The plan usually calls for Coleman and Jasper to start and play a series or two before rookie Chad Lavalais and first-year veteran Antwan Lake take their turn. Johnson's policy not only keeps everyone fresh; he also increases the damage Coleman and Jasper might inflict as the game wears on and fatigue sets in.

COLEMAN MAKES ATLANTA PRESSURE COMPLETE

The presence of Coleman meant so much to the Falcons that they recorded 47 games in 13 games with him but just in three games without him. Despite sending a scare when he flipped his 2003 Cadillac Escalade in the early-morning hours of Oct. 16 and missing three games because of arthroscopic knee surgery, Coleman has proven worthy of Atlanta's investment.

His 11.5 sacks were second only to Minnesota's Kevin Williams among interior linemen. He led the Falcons with five forced fumbles and against his old Raider teammates Coleman became the first defensive lineman ever to intercept a pass for Atlanta and return it for a touchdown.

The Dome also figures to help the Falcons after the home crowd helped cause 23 false-start penalties for opposing teams this season. St. Louis also will arrive with star receiver Isaac Bruce nursing hip, hand and groin injuries that caused coach Mike Martz to downgrade him to questionable on Thursday.

Another factor that could hurt the Rams are the comments earlier this week that bordered on trash talk from Martz and St. Louis' best receiver, Torry Holt. Both men suggested rookie Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who missed the Week 2 game with a hip injury, could be in for a long night.

"We'll just have to see about that, now won't we?" an amused Coleman wondered aloud. "The little man (Hall) can cover some ground. That's something they'll find out for themselves. My job is to get to the quarterback, though, and knock him out."

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