Falcons tight end Austin Hooper wears the Crucial Catch NFL gloves during warms up prior to the game Oct. 6, 2019, against the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images
Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

Cover 9@9: Falcons’ Austin Hooper on pace to catch 112 passes 

1. The Austin Hooper show. Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is having a spectacular start to the season, and he caught eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown Sunday.

With 42 catches this season, Hooper is on pace to catch 112 passes. 

“Well, I just think Hooper has been extremely consistent in his level of play,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “I feel like for the third week in row after the game and after we’ve watched the tape, I’ve felt like Hooper has played his best game. I’m saying that to myself and to the other coaches the last three weeks.”

Hooper has received his touches in the flow of the offense. 

“It’s really not that we’re seeing a mismatch, but he’s in the right place at the right time,” Koetter said. “(Quarterback) Matt (Ryan) is hitting him a lot as a check-down, and then he’s also hitting him sometimes as a primary receiver. Hoop is getting himself open. He has a good feel versus man and versus zone. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities.”

Hooper also has benefited from teams double-covering Julio Jones. 

“If you noticed in this game, we had Julio going down the field and Hooper crossing the field underneath that,” Koetter said. “He made some nice plays, including the touchdown, on that type of route concept.”

The Falcons don’t plan to ease up on using Hooper. 

“I think we’d be crazy not to design some stuff for Hooper,” Koetter said. “We also have Julio. We also have (Calvin) Ridley and Mohamed (Sanu) and (Devonta Freeman), but for sure, we are trying to work as much stuff in there for Hoop as we can.”

The first-half lull can be traced to a left guard James Carpenter’s holding penalty and a delay-of-game penalty that stalled the second possession. 

On the third possession, left guard Wes Schweitzer, who was in for Carpenter, and right guard Jamon Brown were beaten by Cardinals defensive tackles Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter, who both sacked Ryan. Matt Bryant made a 29-yard field goal on the fourth possession, which included fullback Keith Smith picking up a first down on a third-and-1 from the 16. 

“We went with the old-fashioned fullback belly play,” Koetter said. “We got a really good push up front. Alex Mack and Jamon Brown at the point of attack, got really good movement on the right side there. Keith hit it in there. 

2. 1-5 Bounce-back teams: There have been three teams since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to bounce back from 1-5 to make the playoffs.

Last season, the Indianapolis Colts (10-6) joined the 2015 Kansas Chiefs (11-5) and the 1970 Bengals (8-6).

Can the Falcons pull off a mega-run? AJC columnist Michael Cunningham doesn’t think so. 

3. Rams battered and bruised: The Los Angeles Rams, the defending NFC champions, are battered at bruised.

The Rams (3-3) will face the Falcons (1-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Rams have a three-game losing streak and the Falcons have dropped their past four games. 

The Rams beat Carolina (30-27), New Orleans (27-9) and Cleveland (20-13) before dropping games to Tampa Bay (55-40), Seattle (30-29) and San Francisco (20-7). 

In addition to Gurley’s health, the Rams are down starting left guard Joe Noteboom, starting cornerback Aqib Talib and possibly starting safety John Johnson. 

“We’re certainly not going to make any excuses,” McVay said. 

Noteboom tore ligaments in his knee against the 49ers and is out for the rest of the season.

Talib has fractured ribs and was placed on injured reserve.

Johnson sustained a shoulder injury and is getting a second opinion.

“We’ll have more information (later in the week),” McVay said. “That second opinion will (determine) if he’s available or if he’ll miss some extended time.” 

Rookie David Edwards and Jamil Demby are the potential replacements at left guard, while Troy Hill, a four-year veteran will start at cornerback.

Safety Marqui Christian would play safety if Johnson is out. 

“Those are things that (general manager) Les (Snead) and I would discuss,” said McVay, when asked if the injuries at offensive line and cornerback will make the Rams more aggressive than they would've been with the deadline approaching on Oct. 29. “Really, if we felt like it was somebody that in the short-term, but then also you have a long-term perspective on, would help us, those are things that we're always looking into. (Les) does a great job of having a pulse for the entirety of the league and guys that might be available.

“But when I say that, I don't think we're looking outside to fill that void immediately. We're looking, really, potentially outside for guys that would come in and bring maybe veteran depth, not come in and play.”

4. Rams add Jalen Ramsey to boost defense: The Rams defense is still paced by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has three sacks. The Rams signed veteran safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews over the offseason. Matthews was off to a fast start with six sacks before suffering a broken jaw.

The Rams made three trades Tuesday, the biggest was acquiring Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars. The Rams gave up first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 and a fourth-round pick in 2021, the Jaguars announced Tuesday night. 

Earlier in the day, the Rams general manager Les Snead traded cornerback Marcus Peters to the Ravens for Kenny Young. They also picked up center Austin Corbett from the Browns for an undisclosed draft pick. 

5. Rams offense: Running back Todd Gurley has 64 carries for 270 yards and five touchdowns, but he didn’t play last week against the 49ers. 

Quarterback Jared Goff has completed 153 of 246 passes (62.2%) for 1,727 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 80.8.

Copper Kupp is the Rams’ leading receiver with 45 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns.

Gurley, the former University of Georgia standout, sustained a bruised thigh injury against Seattle on Oct. 3. His status will be closely monitored this week, while his replacement Malcolm Brown suffered an ankle injury against the 49ers. 

Running back Darrell Henderson finished the game for the Rams. 

“The first two carries that Darrell had were very exciting,” Rams coach Sean McVay told the Los Angeles media Monday. “In a lot of instances you can see there are some things that he’s a young player. We expect him to be better moving into the Falcons games this week.”

Without Gurley, the 2017 NFL offensive player of the year, the 49ers stymied the Rams passing attack as they held Goff to 78 yards passing. 

“It’s something that we are struggling with,” Goff said about the unit’s consistency. “I think it comes down to in-game execution. We’re going to get right back on track.” 

The Rams plan to stay in Atlanta after the game to practice before flying to London to play the Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 27. 

“You hope its galvanizing,” Goff said. “We will be in Atlanta for a little while. But it’s one week at a time. We’ve got to go out and get better. We have to do a lot of things better to beat Atlanta.”

6. Series history: This will be the 80th overall meeting between the two franchises. The Rams led the regular season meetings, 47-28-1. The Falcons are 2-0 against the Rams in the playoffs. The last meeting was a 26-13 win in the wild-card round Jan. 16, 2018 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

7. High school coach of the week: The Falcons’ coach of the week program recognizes high school football coaches across the state of Georgia for their hard work and dedication to making a difference in the lives of students on and off the field. This season’s seventh winner is McEachern coach Franklin Stephens, who has led his No. 2-ranked Indians to a 6-0 overall start this season with a 1-0 start in Region 3-AAAAAAA. 

8. Film review:  Here’s a look at our film review of the 34-33 loss to the Cardinals. 

9. Depth chart: The Falcons added offensive lineman John Wetzel back to the 53-man roster and waived/inured punter Matt Wile on Monday.

Wile suffered a right quadriceps injury against Houston on Oct. 6.

Wetzel has been on and off the roster for much of the season as the Falcons have had to juggle four punters through the lineup.

The Falcons also signed tight end Carson Meier to the practice squad. 

Here’s the official depth chart for the Rams’ game:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel 
LG 68 77 James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 68 Jamon Brown, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 73 Matt Gono 
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 38 Kenjon Barner, 23 Brian Hill, 32 Qadree Ollison
FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 98 Takkarist McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky
DE 44 Vic Beasley
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Jermaine Grace
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 27 Damontae Kazee, 39 D.J. White  

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
SS 36 Kemal Ishmael, 35 Jamal Carter 

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 9 Kasey Redfern 
P 9 Kasey Redfern, (Mohamed Sanu)
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
KOR 38 Kenjon Barner, Ito Smith
PR Kenjon Barner

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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