Re-Focused – Falcons @ Buccaneers, Week 3

| September 27, 2011

Sloppy conditions in TampaBay on Sunday lead to some very sloppy football from both offenses throughout this game. Five catchable passes hit the deck from receivers hands, defenders were slip-sliding and blockers struggled to get a grasp on pass rushers.
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A week after getting their season back on track with a big win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Atlanta Falcons struggled badly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, until they hit desperation time, rarely looked like they’d get back in to this game.
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So the Bucs now find themselves tied for first place in the NFC South and the Falcons tied for last with the Panthers. Admittedly, there’s only one game between the two, but the Falcons’ offensive line looks like it’s going to be a lead weight for this offense all season.
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Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
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1. Struggles up front
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After getting taken apart up front by the Eagles and principally Trent Cole last week, the Atlanta offensive line would have been looking to just get their feet back under the table with a solid game in Tampa Bay. Mission most definitely failed as the O-line was poor across the board in both the run and pass games. Not one player graded positively as a run blocker or pass protector. As a unit they conceded three sacks, two hits and 17 pressures as they went backwards on the slippery field. They didn’t find any better footing in the run game as they contrived to ensure that Michael Turner was hit in the backfield or only just across the line of scrimmage on every single running play. The Falcons have only changed one player from last season but this line looks a shadow of 2010’s unit at the current time.
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2. Stronger second season
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Sean Weatherspoon (+2.0) had a reputation coming from the NFL draft that he was just going to slot in and play well straight away. Linebackers frequently do, so that wasn’t necessarily an unreasonable claim, but his rookie season (-10.2) was a poor one. He struggled taking on blocks and he looked lost in coverage, but this season things are looking up. For the third straight week Weatherspoon graded positively as a run defender showing real ability both against blockers coming downhill and in pursuit. Weatherspoon has now registered 17 stops through three games, among the league’s best, and Atlanta is starting to see some positive repayment on their investment in the former Missouri Tiger.
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3. Change of focus on offense
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The Falcons are in the progress of transitioning their offense from a ground-and-pound, “three yards and a cloud of dust” running game to a pass-heavy offense with two stud “No. 1” receivers. Right now, not everything is clicking and there are problems rooted in the offense line that are affecting the entire unit. The line doesn’t appear capable of providing a solid foundation for the run or the pass and in these conditions the skill position players struggled to find any sort of timing until they reached late-game no huddle mode. Had Corey Peters not jumped offside inside the two-minute warning there’s a fair chance the Falcons might have driven for the win, let alone the tie, but this result gives Atlanta true focus for their troubles on offense in trying to find their identity.
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Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
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1. Running with authority
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His stats may not have been eye-popping, and he may not have had the highlight reel play, but with a distinct lack of assistance from his teammates this game saw LaGarrette Blount at or close to his very best. Only his two offensive tackles, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood, graded positively as run blockers but when it mattered the Falcons simply couldn’t get Blount down to the ground on first contact. Blount (+1.4 rushing) displayed his amazing power and leg drive late, doing most of his good work with the game on the line, needing to be closed out. The Bucs are trying to build around Josh Freeman, and why not when he plays as he did last season, but Blount showed again here why he is the man who should be getting a slender lead on the line.
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2. Living up to the billing
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The Bucs spent their first round pick on a defensive end to replace Stylez G White and in Adrian Clayborn (+5.1) they may just have found themselves a gem. It was Clayborn who did the most work in ensuring Sam Baker couldn’t easily forget the troubles he had with Trent Cole last Sunday night. Clayborn registered a sack (his first in the NFL, also forcing a fumble), one hit and three pressures in a real break-out performance. To go along with that, he was solid in run defense not allowing himself to be drawn in to just going after Matt Ryan. Clayborn had started the season fairly slowly but if this is the sign of things to come, Tampa Bay fans should be very happy.
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3. Still going strong
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His twin brother may have gotten more column inches over the summer for his failed comeback attempt but after a poor opening two games Ronde Barber (+5.5) showed that he has still got it with an excellent performance in this divisional matchup. Barber patrolled the slot superbly in this game coming up with big plays against all facets. It was Barber who popped up deep in the backfield to stop the attempted end-around to Julio Jones for a loss while also getting his hands on three passes, intercepting one of them. Barber allowed less than 50% of passes into his coverage to be completed for a meager 37 yards. Age may be starting to catch up with him in terms of consistency but Barber is still well capable of strong and disruptive performances.
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Game Notes
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●  In the sloppy conditions, Josh Freeman went in to game-manager mode. He attempted only seven passes more than 10 yards downfield, completing just two of them for 38 yards.

●  Matt Ryan’s totals deep and outside the numbers were poor but were hurt by drops. Ryan went 2/10 for 45 yards. How much for Roddy White to pull in that pass?

●  He may have found no room on that attempted end-around, but Julio Jones started to show himself as a threat after the catch in this game. Jones forced three missed tackles on Sunday.
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PFF Game Ball

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The rookie defensive end didn’t let Sam Baker ease back in to things after the shellacking he got from Trent Cole last week. Clayborn was a one man wrecking crew early on, playing a crucial role in not letting Ryan and the Falcons’ offense settle in to this game.
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