3TFO: Falcons @ Buccaneers, Week 11
This NFC South battle finds two struggling teams just trying to get another win.
The hosting Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a terrible season full of close losses and off-field controversies, yet they still managed to finally get their first win of the year against the Miami Dolphins on MNF earlier in the week.
As awful as Tampa Bay’s season has been, the Atlanta Falcon’s season has been even more disappointing. After holding the No. 1 NFC seed in the playoffs last year, winning their first playoff game in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, and then convincing future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez to return for one last shot at a ring, they have only two wins in this fading season. One of those wins was over these Buccaneers a few weeks ago. Here are three key match ups to determine who will win this divisional battle between two teams playing for respect.
Despite winning that first game against Tampa Bay, the Falcons’ secondary still got bullied by the Mike Glennon/Vincent Jackson combo for 138 yards and two scores on 10 catches. It could have been worse had Jackson not dropped three catchable passes. With Jackson playing at every possible WR spot (outside on both sides, inside slot on both sides, outside slot on both sides, etc.), he found himself against all six Falcons’ DBs. Veteran Asante Samuel conceded the most yards, mostly on the early 59-yard TD, while safety Thomas DeCoud allowed only 6 yards on the two passes out of four targets caught in his coverage (one incompletion was a drop though). It should also be noted that the Pro Bowl WR did have a ridiculous 22 targets and also fumbled fighting for yardage (an offensive lineman managed to recover).
Jackson has cooled off considerably since that contest with no scores on 10 catches/25 targets for 118 yards. While the Falcons secondary has continued to be burned since that initial meeting, they haven’t been picked on by one receiver to that extent since — Golden Tate’s 106 yards and a score is the highest yardage total put on them by a single WR in the past three contests. Samuel was a big part of Tate’s production with 88 of those yards on his resume, making him once again the most likely to be targeted by Glennon and Jackson. Safety William Moore is another DB to keep an eye on as, after a respectable start to the year, he’s ‘earned’ a -4.6 coverage grade since a great performance against the Bucs (+2.3 coverage grade, including a potential TD-break up on Doug Martin via a big hit). Will this unit allow Jackson to shred them again?
Protecting Matt Ryan
It’s no secret that, due to a mix of injuries and poor play, Matt Ryan has taken weekly beatings in the Falcons’ nightmarish 2013 campaign. LT Sam Baker got paid after a resurgent 2012 season but never came close to returning to that form this year, and is now on injured reserve. Sophomore Larry Holmes, Tyson Clabo’s replacement, has bounced back and forth between LT and RT and struggled in nearly every game, becoming the weakest link in this below-average unit. The only positive is that guards Garrett Reynolds and especially Justin Blalock have performed above-average.
Interestingly, in what was by far this unit’s best pass blocking performance, Blalock was the only Falcon responsible for allowing Ryan to hit the turf in their first encounter with the Buccaneers, who have struggled to generate pressure this year. Aside from former first-rounder Gerald McCoy (41 total pressures on plays not negated by penalty), the most productive Buccaneer defenders in this area have been Lavonte David and Mason Foster. Both of these LBs have had to blitz 61 times, a trend that doesn’t speak well of the defensive line’s ability to consistently harass the opposing signal-caller. It remains to be seen if, at home, coming off a prime-time win, this DL can exploit Atlanta’s weak line like so many others have. They couldn’t on the road in Atlanta.
Buccaneers Running Game vs. Falcons Defense
Shifty HB Doug Martin was off to a solid start in the first meeting between these two teams with 47 yards on 11 carries. However, the former first-rounder was injured early in the third quarter trying to catch a TD pass (this is the play made by Moore mentioned above) — he hasn’t played a snap since and was recently put on IR. Rookie Mike James pitched in for 45 yards in relief and would go on to catch some attention by averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry two weeks later in a competitive loss to Seattle. He would also be lost to injury though early in the Miami victory. That leaves journeyman Brian Leonard and sophomore Bobby Rainey (45 yards and a score last week on eight carries) to shoulder the load against a vulnerable Atlanta defense.
As with any defense, there are some bright spots. DT Jonathan Babineaux has been a run-stopping stud for this otherwise weak unit with 20 run stops, tied for ninth-best among DTs and NTs in Run Stop %. Fellow lineman Corey Peters has helped as well, though not much last week with two missed tackles and only one tackle made (not a stop). Ex-Giant Osi Umenyiora, known for his pass-rushing skills and lack thereof in terms of defending the run, also has a positive grade right now in this area — he too also had trouble with Marshawn Lynch though, which isn’t too damning. Atlanta may also get back LB Sean Weatherspoon for this contest, though he graded poorly against running attacks last season and hasn’t played since getting injured in week two. The weakest links here have been LB Akeem Dent and former first-round DT Peria Jerry (combined -12.8 run D grade).
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