What can Falcons take from Rams’ Super Bowl building methods

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead looks on before a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG/The Orange County Register/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead looks on before a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG/The Orange County Register/TNS)

FLOWERY BRANCH – After the Falcons pulled off a 26-13 wild-card playoff win over the Rams in January 2018, Les Snead was cordial outside the locker room in the historic L.A. Coliseum.

The team’s general manager, Snead thought the Rams blew their chance to advance after a couple of special-teams blunders, and he thought “never again” did he want to have that losing feeling in the playoffs.

He’ll be in his box at his team’s shiny new stadium when the Rams, the defending Super Bowl champs, face the Falcons at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

The two franchises have taken divergent paths since that day in southern California. That was the Falcons’ most-recent playoff win. The Rams, using some non-traditional and very aggressive team-building methods, have been to two Super Bowls, winning last season’s over the Bengals.

“It was definitely a fulfilling journey,” Snead told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview. “That journey, it can be long. It’s not just one season. But to attempt to build something and then break through and actually climb. Get to the mountain top, have more points than the AFC champion at the end of that game, is definitely fulfilling.”

The Rams pulled out all of the stops as they traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford in January 2021 and added veterans Von Miller and Odell Beckham during last season.

“You just look back, and there is a lot of perspective of like, wow, we got some lucky breaks,” said Snead, who signed a five-year contract extension through 2026 on Sept. 8. “Probably did some good things, the right things or sound things along the way, but definitely when you look back, you go wow, there were a few breaks that went our way as well.”

The loss to the Falcons, which ended coach Sean McVay’s first season, was the start of the Rams’ climb.

“We ended up winning our division, NFC West championship that year,” Snead said. “Actually, we were humming. I think we turned the ball over that night on special teams. But I remember thinking that’s an opportunity wasted.

“Because sometimes when you are new. Even some of our schemes were new. Teams didn’t necessarily have five years worth of tape on us. They only had 16 games or 17 games on us. That was a disappointing loss.”

The Falcons were favored in the divisional round that season, but were upset by backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Falcons have not been over .500 since.

Snead was a pro scout with the Falcons from 1998-2008. He was the director of player personnel from 2009-11 before he was named the St. Louis Rams general manager in 2012. The Rams left for Los Angeles in 2015.

There were some lean years early, but everything started to take off when they hired McVay to replace Jeff Fisher in the 2017 season. Snead, who was retained, called it their “breakthrough” season.

Fisher was consistently around the .500 mark, but couldn’t push the Rams back to elite status. There were trades that didn’t work and draft picks who didn’t pan out.

Snead respected that Falcons’ 2017 team, which fought hard after the Super Bowl collapse in the previous season.

“That was probably an unsung year in Atlanta, coming off the brutal fourth-quarter collapse in the Super Bowl,” Snead said. “But then fighting through that ‘17 season and making a dent. They were probably a Julio Jones dropped pass away from being in the NFC Championship game again.”

That season ended on the 1-yard line in Philadelphia.

The Rams tried to maximize their “breakthrough” season.

“I think it was being aware of OK, wait a minute, we might be in a window, it started in ‘17,” Snead said. “Take it back a little bit, hiring Sean as our head coach. By the time we got to that game that you’re talking about with Atlanta, we are like OK, wait a minute. Not only did we get this right, we may have gotten a special coach.

“I think at the end of the day it’s like wow, we’ve got this head coach that is in his prime doing some rare things. Let’s try to make the most of it with our team in this window. At that point, that is really when you just start looking at all of the ways we could try to get an edge. Not to just win a division, but get an edge and try to be No. 1 of 32.”

The Rams made bold moves, starting with the release of running back Todd Gurley. They knew their first-round picks would come late in the first round, which could be a crapshoot.

“We wanted to sit back and really analyze all avenues,” Snead said. “We go OK, maybe it’s time to do something less traditional. Here in this case, you’re talking about the draft.”

The Rams thought they could use some of their early draft picks to acquire some top-five, top-10 talent that already was proven in the NFL.

“If we bring those players on with the players that we have, maybe that does give us an edge,” Snead said.

After the loss to New England in the first Super Bowl played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Rams knew they needed to make another leap to win a NFL title.

“Post the 2018 (season) Super Bowl loss to New England, we knew we were capable of getting there,” Snead said. “We also knew, once you get there, you’ve got a 50% chance to win it. But we did feel like, wow, what if we did this when Matthew did become available.”

Stafford, a former Georgia Bulldog, had enough of the losing in Detroit and requested a trade. Former Rams executive Brad Holmes landed the Detroit general manager post. That helped to facilitate the deal.

“So, we really looked at that and thought is that really an opportunity that we should investigate,” Snead said. “After analyzing it, it was opportunity to bring in a quarterback in his prime to our team. Partner him with Sean, who is in his prime, and other players. It was an opportunity for us to move that needle just a little bit higher. Maybe sharpen our sword just a little bit more. Give us a little bit more of an edge to not only win the division, but advance in the playoffs and go win it all.”

The Rams got off to 7-1 start, and the Broncos were ready to amass draft capital to pursue a quarterback. They traded Miller to the Rams, and the team had a pass-rusher for hire for half of a season.

“At that point in the 2021 season, we’re like, if we can stay healthy we can pretty much make the bet that we have a chance to make a run here,” Snead said. “We have a chance to definitely be playing January, and hopefully February, football.”

With Miller outside and Aaron Donald inside, the Rams hoped to have a formidable pass-rush tandem.

“We did it with January in mind if we had to play Kyler Murray,” Snead said. “If we had to play Tom Brady. Maybe Aaron Rodgers. But instead we got the Niners and (then) we got to play Joe Burrow. We wouldn’t have (traded for) Von if we were not at the halfway mark and thought we had a chance to make a run.”

In addition to the trades, the Rams hit big in the draft on Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Gurley’s knee gave out, but they added Cam Akers in the draft.

After moving on from quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons are rebuilding.

“The whole climb is can we improve,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

The Falcons were 7-10 last season. They are at the outset of the new regime’s second season. McVay believes teams can make a jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

“There are so many layers to it,” said McVay, who played at Marist School. “So much of it is predicated on how much continuity that you have. ... I think there is just a comfort in being able to establish a rhythm and a routine.”

The Falcons have said they plan to turn over every stone looking for players, but can they learn from the Rams?

“I think all organizations have to be aware of kind of where they are at,” Snead said. “Keep it simple. Are we building, and then at that point, you build with the hopes of breaking through.”

The Rams broke through in 2017.

“We hadn’t been in the playoffs in a while, and then all of a sudden we win the division,” Snead said. “All of a sudden you break through into the playoffs.

“At that point in time, let’s assess this breakthrough. Is it something that is sustainable. Was it more luck than quality of play? All of the variables that can go into it.”

Teams must then assess the players, the schemes and their needs.

“One of your Achilles could have been not stopping the run. How do acquire players and adjust the schemes to stop the run,” Snead said. “Once you break through, your base rate model becomes a little bit clearer on how you can improve and maybe become stronger. I think that’s what all teams are trying to do.”

Snead wore a T-shirt that included the words “(Expletive) them picks” to the Rams’ Super Bowl parade. As for the future, they’ll worry about that later.

“Let’s make the most of this window and yes, be cognizant of the future, but the future is still the future,” Snead said.

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18 at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD