3TFO: Buccaneers @ Falcons, Week 7
This NFC South showdown finds two desperate teams dueling in the Georgia Dome. Last season these divisional rivals split the season series — the Falcons won by a point in Tampa Bay, while the Buccaneers won the regular season finale in Atlanta by 5, a contest in which head coach Mike Smith elected to play his starters despite already having home field advantage secured through the playoffs.
The 1-4 Falcons have fallen far since hosting the NFC Title Game in January. A slew of injuries on both sides of the ball have made their playoff chances seem very difficult, if not impossible.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in an even bigger hole, winless after five contests. There’s also numerous off-field issues (nasty infections, questionable treatment of said infections, the Josh Freeman fiasco) plaguing the team.
Here are some key match ups to watch for in this game.
Who is Matt Ryan Throwing to?
Julio Jones is done for the year. Roddy White has been playing with various injuries and may not be able to play in this contest. Aside from Tony Gonzalez, who should now be focused on even more by defenses, who is going to receive Matt Ryan’s passes? The fact Steven Jackson, who was supposed to bring a pass-catching threat the team lacked with Michael Turner, seems iffy at best to play on Sunday doesn’t help.
It seems that 2008 third-round pick Harry Douglas will be the No. 1 WR if White is unable to suit up. Douglas, who has actually played one more snap than White, has disappointed thus far in 2013 with only 16 catches, no scores, a fumble, and two drops. The last drop was near the goal line in the Jets loss, one play in a sequence of events that saw the Falcons stopped on the 1-yard line right before halftime. To be fair, that pass, which could have gone for a TD and changed the game, was a bit overthrown, but Douglas still could have made a play. The next wide out with the most snaps on the year is former undrafted free agent Drew Davis, who has played in every game but hasn’t had a pass thrown to him since Week 1. After Davis is Kevin Cone, who has played in four games and actually had a 12-yard catch-and-run and forced a missed tackle against the Jets, but that was his only target. Fourth-round rookie TE Levine Toilolo could become a bigger target for Ryan. Toilolo has caught all but one pass thrown to him this season, forced two missed tackles and scored a pair of TDs. Otherwise expect a lot of short passes to HBs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, who have a combined for 32 catches, 20 forced missed tackles and two TDs.
Buccaneers Pass Rush vs. Falcons O-Line
It’s no secret that Atlanta’s offensive line has been atrocious this year. At this point, the Falcons line has the 28th worst Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating and has allowed 86 total pressures in five games (not including plays nullified by penalty). ‘Franchise’ left tackle Sam Baker’s injury has certainly hinderd this unit, but Baker has simply been terrible (-10.7 pass blocking grade on only 106 pass plays) after a surprisingly effective 2012 season. The biggest culprit has been 2012 third-round pick Lamar Holmes, who started the year as the right tackle but has been moved to left tackle the last few games. On the bright side, guards Garrett Reynolds and Justin Blalock have performed well to the tune of a +7.9 combined pass blocking grade.
The solid play of the guards is important because Tampa Bay’s most dangerous pass rusher is Gerald McCoy, who plays on the interior of the defensive line. The 2010 third-overall pick had a good 2012 campaign and that level of play has continued into this season — he currently owns the third best pass rushing grade among DTs and NTs, behind Ndamukong Suh and in front of Geno Atkins. Aside from McCoy, the most productive blitzers have been LBs Lavonte David and Mason Foster, a fact that speaks ill of the rest of the D-Line. 2011 first-round defensive end Adrian Clayborn in particular has been disappointing with the second-lowest pass rushing grade on this unit, but he has still put a QB on the ground at least once in all five games this year.
Vincent Jackson vs. Falcons CBs
Vincent Jackson is tied with Dez Bryant as the ninth-most targeted wide out in the league (53), but has hauled in only 26 of those passes. The fact that Jackson still has the 11th-best receiving grade among his peers speaks volumes about the QB woes Jackson has had to deal with. With the help of rookie QB Mike Glennon, Jackson finally found the end zone last week — twice. That is encouraging, especially after he was shut down the week before by Patrick Peterson, catching only one of eight passes thrown into Peterson’s coverage for 13 yards (he had a 14-yard catch otherwise). Two of those targets were intercepted, the last of which sealed the Arizona win.
Though Jackson primarily lines up out wide, he is occasionally put in the slot — he could be matched up on all of Atlanta’s cornerbacks at various points on Sunday. Atlanta would probably prefer Asante Samuel to be matched up on Jackson. The veteran Pro Bowler has the highest coverage grade among Atlanta’s CBs and has only officially given up only one catch for 9 yards while defending another pass, but he’s also only played in two full games (except for one snap in each). His notorious disinterest in tackling also resurfaced on Jeremy Kerley’s 16 yard TD catch, he wasn’t responsible for primary coverage, but was tentative to say the least when he was the last line of defense after the Jets receiver broke Robert McClain’s tackle. McClain, our Falcons Secret Superstar this past offseason, has struggled the most of these cornerbacks while also being the most targeted. Rookie first-round pick Desmond Trufant has had three negatively graded coverage outings, but overall has still performed alright, conceding only one TD pass (from Tom Brady) while defending a pass in every game. Second-round rookie Robert Alford has also been forced on to the field at times (mostly due to Samuels’ injuries) and has not fared as well as Trufant, but still intercepted and knocked away a couple of Drew Brees passes back in Week 1. If this group can shut down Tampa Bay’s very dangerous No. 1 receiving threat, it will go a long way in earning their first ‘W’ of the year.
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