Neither one of these teams are where they want to be right now. The Falcons have lost their chance at the division, and didn’t look good against the Saints last week. The only way they can avoid a rematch against the Saints is if they win and the Packers beat the Lions, or if the Saints can get a first round bye. No matter what, if the Falcons want to make a run it won’t be going through Atlanta.
Tampa Bay last won a game way back in Week 6, and haven’t been very competitive in any of the games since then. We could be seeing Raheem Morris’ last game coaching the Buccaneers, and a win or a loss probably won’t make much of a difference. Tampa Bay’s best chances involve Atlanta resting some of their players. Since they have a later kickoff time, the Falcons will know if they have something to play for by the time this one kicks-off. Here are three matchups to keep an eye on.
Falcons Run Game vs. Bucs Run Defense
The Falcons have been moderately successful running the ball in 2011. They have been led by Michael Turner (+6.6), with backup Jacquizz Rodgers (+4.7) getting the second most carries. Turner currently leads the league in the number of players that have missed tackles on him on runs with 53, but it’s been five weeks since he’s broken a run for more than 16 yards. If he sees an early exit from the game, Rodgers should get a fair amount of carries, where he has had 10 players miss tackles on him in his 49 rushing attempts.
While they may not be the best running back options in the world, you don’t need that great of options when facing the Buccaneers. Over the past five games, they have allowed running backs to average an astounding 5.4 yards per carry. By far their best defensive end in run blocking this year has been Michael Bennett (+24.6) but he has a toe injury and might not play. The best defensive tackle has been Albert Haynesworth (+8.4), but he has a knee injury and also isn’t participating in practice. Roy Miller (-15.3) and Brian Price (-13.6) are also banged up, so we could see recent free agent addition Jovan Haye (-0.2) get the start. Having a poor run defense, which is compounded by possibly missing your best run stoppers due to injury, is just a sign for disaster.
Buccaneers Passing Options vs. Falcons Secondary
The Buccaneers haven’t been able to pass the ball like many expected in 2011. Josh Freeman (-17.1) has disappointed in his third year and has had to deal with a bruised shoulder and hand injuries this season. Two of his three best games came in the first two weeks of the season. Just looking at his TD to Interception ratio of 14 to 19 compared to last year’s 25 to 6 can give you a good sense of how the season has been. It doesn’t help that the six players to have played wide receiver this year all have negative receiving ratings. His top receiving target Mike Williams (-8.9) was very good at yards after the catch last year at 5.3 YAC per catch. This year that is down to 3.4 which is near the bottom of the league for the top receiving target for a team.
Tampa Bay has an opportunity to end the season on a high note in the passing game. Atlanta could decide to rest Brent Grimes (+16.0), and if they don’t then Freeman should mostly avoid him. The man lining up opposite of him is Dunta Robinson (-10.7) who has allowed 17.5 yards per catch which is the most by a cornerback. Not far behind him is backup Dominique Franks (-1.4) who has allowed 16.5 yards per catch. Both Franks and Chris Owens (-6.8 coverage) should see a fair amount of playing time either in the slot, or out wide if some starters are rested. Owens has allowed 76.9% of passes thrown his way to be caught, which is the highest for a cornerback not playing for the Colts. The Buccaneers could be capable of making a number of plays against this secondary, while this secondary wants to try proving themselves as they will face much stronger passing attacks in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay’s Right Tackle vs. Lawrence Sidbury
With Ray Edwards missing practice, and a fair chance of the Falcons resting players, I would hypothesize that there is a good chance defensive end Lawrence Sidbury (+3.8 pass rush) sees more playing time than he is used to. Over the past six games, he has had 11 overall pressures on 62 pass rushes. That means he has gotten pressure on 17.7% of his pass rushes, which is typically close to what elite pass rushers have, but this is on a much smaller sample size. On 74% of his snaps this season, he has lined up on the defenses left side, which would put him across from Buccaneers right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (-30.6) on the majority of Sidbury’s snaps if Trueblood plays. In each of his last four games, he has allowed between four to six overall pressures. He suffered a concussion last week, and if he doesn’t play, Demar Dotson is likely to get the nod. In 2009 and this year, he has typically served as the Buccaneers sixth offensive linemen, and hasn’t started a game yet. This could be a chance for Sidbury to show he deserves some more playing time, or a chance for Dotson to let the Buccaneers know he should replace Trueblood in the lineup.