Despite youth, Rams calm for playoffs

Jan 4, 2018 - 1:54 AM THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- It's almost ironic the Los Angeles Rams would draw the Atlanta Falcons as their first opponent in the first round of the NFL playoffs Saturday in Los Angeles.

From top to bottom, the Rams are the least experienced team in the NFC playoffs with only six players having even been on a playoff roster in their careers.

And their head coach, Sean McVay, is a 31-year-old in his very first head coaching gig.

The Falcons, conversely, are the defending NFC champions and have a wealth of playoff experience.

The two teams are, in that sense, polar opposites.

The question now is, will it have any effect on how the Rams actually approach or play Saturday when they welcome the Falcons to the Memorial Coliseum?

Or is it even pertinent at this point?

The Rams have gone out of their way to approach this game like any other.

And in a season in which they played a number of so-called "big games" and passed the plethora of tests they were presented, they feel they are as prepared as can be to play a postseason game.

"I think more than anything it's a big game I think that's what it boils down to and I think we do have experience with that stuff," quarterback Jared Goff said. "We played a big game in Seattle a couple weeks ago. We played a big game two weeks ago against Tennessee. We played a big game against the Eagles. We played a big game against Minnesota, against New Orleans.

"We had a bunch of big games against top teams this year and so I think that experience will translate mostly to this game."

Said McVay: I don't think it's a concern -- I think that when I say that you have a whole lot of respect for experience and what that does and the value that it provides, but I do think that we have a confident group, I think we've got a mature group for a young football team and then those guys in that locker room, the guys that have been in playoff atmospheres, we've got coaches that have been there as well, can provide that leadership in terms of what to expect."

Still, it will be interesting to see how Goff, in his second season, embraces the big stage of the playoffs. His play, as much as anyone else's, will go a long way in determining the Rams' fate.

His coach doesn't appear concerned.

"The one thing that you guys have heard me say before, you just come away so impressed with his even-keeled demeanor, the poise that he plays with," McVay said. "Jared is fearless and I think he looks at it as a great opportunity and we trust that he's going to make good decisions, he'll have an ownership of the game plan and what we're trying to get accomplished and I think if the way that he's played this season is any indicator of what we expect against a very good Atlanta Falcons defense -- he's made good decisions, he's taking care of the ball, so I think it's a great opportunity for him to play in an atmosphere like that that he certainly has earned with his teammates.

"But, in terms of worrying about, is the moment too big or the playoffs? That is the least of your concerns, just from having experienced what we have with Jared and kind of the way that he's wired and that's why we feel like he's special."

Goff admits his nerves will be in overdrive. The key is managing them.

"Oh, I'll be nervous," Goff said. "Of course, yeah, you always get nervous. But I think it's more excitement and more anxiety and you want to get out there than true nervousness.

"You may have that little pit in your stomach at the beginning of the game, but it's no different than any other game for me, honestly. I feel the same way every week and going to approach this one the same way."

SERIES HISTORY: 79th all-time meeting. Rams lead series, 47-29-2. The Rams and Falcons met in the playoffs once in 2004 with the Falcons winning 47-17 behind 119 yards rushing from Michael Vick.

--One thing that's helped second-year Rams quarterback Jared Goff emerge as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league is the even keel he's shown throughout his second season.

Never too high, never too low. It sounds like a cliche, but in Goff's case it's absolutely accurate.

So don't expect him to get too overly emotional about making his first career playoff start against the Falcons Saturday.

To him, it's just another game.

"It's exactly the same, aside it being a day earlier," he said. "The way we set up our schedule, today (Tuesday) was a Wednesday for us and operated the way we would on a regular Wednesday. It's the exact same. We're going to take the exact same approach we took the first 16 games and hopefully go in there and play well."

From preparation to practice to weekly rituals, Goff said he will approach this week exactly the same.

"Yeah, I think so. I think we've been successful up to this point doing what we do weekly, so why change it," he said. "This week's no different."

--Pharoh Cooper, who has emerged as a Pro-Bowl kickoff and punt returner, did not practice on Wednesday because of a sore shoulder. The second-year wide receiver has developed into a huge weapon for the Rams on special teams, and his absence would be a big blow if it turns out he can't play.

But the Rams are counting on their dynamic return man suiting up and playing.

"You guys know Pharoh, he's pretty tough, so I think it's going to take a lot to keep him out of this game," said head coach Sean McVay. "With what he's meant to our football team and the type of competitor he is, we anticipate him being able to go unless there are some setbacks throughout the course of the week."

NOTES: WR Pharoh Cooper did not practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury. ... CB Blake Countess was limited in practice Wednesday and is still in concussion protocol. ... WR Michael Thomas did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. ... LB Mark Barron was limited in practice Wednesday because of an Achilles tendon injury.

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