Game SnapShot: Falcons (1-3) at Rams (2-2)

<b>KICKOFF:</b> Monday, 9:00 ET<br> <b>GAMEDATE: </b>10/13/03<br> <b>SURFACE:</b> Astroturf<br> <b>TV:</b> ESPN, Al Michaels, John Madden, Lisa Guerrero<br>Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at St. Louis Rams (2-2)<br> <br> <b>SERIES: </b>71st meeting. The Rams lead 45-23-2. In the last six meetings between these teams before the Falcons left for the NFC South in 2002, St. Louis drilled Atlanta all six times by a combined score of 228-88. Atlanta won four straight before that.

2003 RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 27th (21st rush, 24th pass); defense 32nd (29th rush, 23rd pass). Rams: offense 11th (24th rush, 5th pass); defense 12th (16th rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons have had trouble stopping the run all season, but can expect to see a steady diet of passes early. CB Tyronne Williams returns from his one-game suspension, but he and fellow starter Ray Buchanan have been inconsistent at best this season and Rams WRs Isaac Bruce (233) and Torry Holt (189) have had their best career receiving yardage games against the Falcons. Offensively, the Falcons had more success spreading the field last Sunday and using less power formations. But for QB Doug Johnson to be effective, LT Bob Whitfield has to break out of his self-described "pass-protection rut" and keep Rams DE Grant Winstrom out of the backfield.

FAST FACTS: Falcons: Coach Dan Reeves will be making his fifth at-tempt to become the sixth coach in history to win 200 career games. ... RB T.J. Duckett's 5.8-yard average per carry ranks fourth among NFL players with at least 200 rushing yards. Rams: QB Marc Bulger is 8-2 as a starter. ... WR Isaac Bruce has 59 receptions for 1,094 yards in 14 career games against Atlanta.


* WR Peerless Price did not practice Thursday and was downgraded to doubtful on the injury report. But his chances of playing Monday at St. Louis are better than many might believe. He was doubtful on the injury report on Wednesday of the previous week, and did not practice because of his sore right foot. But his inflamed arch allowed him to practice the next day, and play three days later against the Vikings. And he played well, catching 12 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

It'd be a good bet he'll play against the Rams as well.

* SLB Sam Rogers, who's been hobbled by a bum left knee, practiced Thursday with the Falcons for the first time in a few weeks, but coach Dan Reeves left him as doubtful on the injury report. Friday's practice, the last big session before a Monday night game at St. Louis, will be important.

* OLB Keith Newman, who started last Sunday for the Falcons at WLB in his first game back after a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's banned substance policy, is likely to start there again as Sam Rogers nurses his injured left knee.

* WR Brian Finneran, who's missed the past four games with a bro-ken left hand, is expected to play at St. Louis, although it's unclear whether he'll start. "I'm just ready to get back on the field. I just want to play football," he said. "I have a brace on it, and some catches will be more difficult than others but I'll try to catch everything."

* LG Travis Claridge, who has a torn muscle in his left shoulder and some tissue damage at the bottom of his right quadriceps that is worse, practiced Thursday and is questionable for Monday's game at St. Louis. His chances for playing remain unclear. Roberto Garza would replace Claridge if he can't go, and second-year pro Martin Bibla might become the backup G/C.

* SS Cory Hall, who had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 2 to remove debris from his right knee, will not play Monday at St. Louis.

* S Kevin McCadam, who did not play last Sunday because of a strained left hamstring, practiced Thursday and looks like the likely starter at SS in Monday's game at St. Louis. He'll replace Cory Hall (left knee) in part because fellow backup SS Gerald McBurrows, al-though he practiced Thursday, is more bothered by a pinched nerve in his neck.

* SS Gerald McBurrows, who did not play Sunday against Minnesota, practiced Thursday despite a pinched nerve in his neck. He's still questionable on the injury report, though, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips suggestion that Kevin McCadam is the most likely starter at SS suggests there is still a decent chance McBurrows won't play.

* P Chris Mohr, whose kicking foot was affected last Sunday when he was kicked above the right ankle and a nerve was tweaked, is still bothered by the injury. He still cannot completely flex his foot the way he'd like, but it has improved, and he believes that by the Falcons' game Monday night at St. Louis he'll be good to go.

* LT Bob Whitfield, who admitted very candidly after the Falcons' 39-26 loss last Sunday to the Vikings that he hasn't play well this sea-son, visited a hypnotist Wednesday morning, an off day for players. Then, on his weekly radio show that night, he underwent hypnosis. "It was real," Whitfield said. "It's all a way to help you focus. It wasn't like a funny little thing where you're asleep. You may look at it as weird science, but as soon as it helps you focus, it's like, 'Hey, there's nothing wrong with that.'"

* RB Lamar Gordon, who had been back practicing after suffering a sprained left wrist against Arizona in Week 4, banged his left hand during the first 10 minutes of practice Thursday and was held out for the rest of the afternoon. Gordon's hand went numb at first. He is expected to practice Friday and play Monday night.

* RB Arlen Harris, who is currently the backup to Lamar Gordon, saw extensive action in practice Thursday with the first team after Gordon banged his injured left hand.

* RB Joffrey Reynolds, a rookie free agent who is on the practice squad, received significant reps with the first unit in practice Thursday after starter Lamar Gordon banged his injured left hand. Reynolds might be added to the active roster depending on how Gordon responds in the next four days.

* S Shane Walton was placed on injured reserve Thursday, ending his rookie season. Walton has been bothered by a back problem since training camp, and was being treated for a herniated disc. Doctors' felt resting it for the rest of the season was the best solution.

* FB Dan Curley, who injured his calf three times since just before training camp, was placed on waivers Thursday. The Rams were intrigued with Curley's potential, but he wasn't able to stay on the field for long stretches. He played just nine games in his final three seasons of college.

* MLB Robert Thomas did not practice Thursday because of a groin injury, and coach Mike Martz said he wasn't optimistic that Thomas would be available to practice Friday.

* FB Spencer Nead might be signed to the active roster from the practice squad in order to play against Atlanta Monday night. Nead was added to the roster for the Week 4 game against Arizona, but was on the field for just one play. Lining up at fullback in that game was a group that included TE's Brandon Manumaleuna and Cam Cleeland and long snapper Chris Massey.


Moving beyond any growing debate over whether the Falcons have the proper personnel to be playing a 3-4 defense instead of a 4-3, there is this: they have the personnel to be playing better than they are regardless of the system.

Sure, the Falcons have had quite a few injuries on defense, particularly in the secondary, where starting RCB Tyrone Williams also missed a game because of a suspension.

But as Atlanta (1-4) is getting ready to play Monday night at St. Louis (2-2), where they'll attempt to end a four-game losing streak that has at times been ridiculous in its nature, the first step in the right direction will be to improve a defense that's ranked dead last in the NFL, al-lowing 382.8 total yards per game.

Some of it's physical, and getting back some injured players, like backup strong safety Kevin McCadam - who's likely to start in place of the injured Cory Hall - and Williams, helps. But there's a mental component to this, too. And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has to not only put players in position to succeed, but convince them they can. "Any time you get players back, it improves your outlook as well as your capabilities," Phillips said. "You don't want to put too much pres-sure on them to make every play; just ... work together as a team. That's from middle school all the way up."

The Falcons' run defense has been particularly problematic (that's a nice way of saying it), as every opponent has rushed for at least 125 yards. The Falcons are allowing an average of 153 per game. Sure, Atlanta has played against offenses ranked No. 1 (Dallas), 2 (Minnesota), 3 (Tampa Bay) and 5 (Washington), and their other opponent, Carolina, while ranked No. 23 overall, has the leagues No. 2 rushing offense.

But this goes beyond match up and injuries.

"Yeah. We're definitely shocked about [the ranking]," said linebacker Chris Draft. "Our No. 1 goal is to win, and we're not winning. We're not making enough plays to win, and the [statistics] are a factor. If you're able to make plays at the right times, you might give up yards ... but you still make key plays to win. We haven't done that."

Jason Sehorn has to be the most talked-about player that has never played a down for the St. Louis Rams.

Sehorn, who broke a bone in his foot on July 27, the fourth day of practice in training camp, was expected to be back for the Rams' game Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons. After practicing Monday, that seemed like a certainty.

But Sehorn practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, and then did nothing on Thursday. After Thursday's practice, coach Mike Martz declared him out of Monday's game.

"He's still probably a little ways away, a week or so away," Martz said. "How much this is a setback, who knows? It might be just next week."

Sehorn was considerably sore after Monday's practice, and an evaluation by team doctors led to the decision to keep him out. Certainly contributing to the decision is the hard artificial turf in the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams also play at home the following week, against Green Bay.

"He's sore enough that it's not worth the risk of playing him," Martz added. "Monday, he felt great, and he probably did more than he should have."

With Sehorn out, Aeneas Williams will remain at free safety, while Jerametrius Butler will get another start at cornerback.

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