ReFo: Buccaneers @ Falcons, Week 17
Wins like this have shown in the past to be important for teams as they head into next season and, with a victory on the road against a divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into next season in the best way they could after falling out of the playoff race. There’s still work to be done in Tampa but the positives from Greg Schiano’s first season in charge should give fans plenty of encouragement heading into 2013.
For the Atlanta Falcons it was the tough question of whether or not to rest their starters. Given that they already had home field advantage throughout the playoffs locked up there wasn’t much to play for, but teams are always wary of effectively giving their stars two bye weeks to end the season, especially when their opponent in the divisional round will be riding at the very least a five game winning streak.
Despite its lack of playoff implications, the game still had plenty of performances worth talking about, so with that in mind let’s take a look at the key performances from both sides in the NFC South battle.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
In a performance that saw him finish his rookie season with an incredible 1,926 yards from scrimmage, running back Doug Martin showed again why he’s going to be one of the league’s most exciting players for years to come. With five missed tackles forced from 32 total touches, he finished the game with an Elusive Rating of 53.0. It might not have been his best game of the season, but it again showed what he’s good at.
His ability to break a game open with a long run has been on display all season and that was no different in this game. On 1st-and-10 with 1:52 left in the third quarter, Martin made a nice cut at the line of scrimmage before breaking free of attempted tackles by safeties Chris Hope and Thomas DeCoud and racing for the end zone.
The Ups and Downs of Josh Freeman
Watching Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, I’m left with the same feeling of frustration I get when watching Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. At his best, Freeman can make every throw you need him to make and can take over a game. However far too often he makes the sort of mistakes that keep you from trusting him and, especially recently, we’ve seen more downs than ups.
His interception on 3rd-and-7 with 4:35 left in the third quarter was particularly bad, with a lazy throw allowing Atlanta corner back Asante Samuel to step in front of receiver Tiquan Underwood and secure the turnover. The decision to make the throw was dubious but the execution by quarterback and receiver was extremely poor and turned a short pass into a turnover. As they head into the offseason now, the powers that be in Tampa have to find a way to get Freeman playing with more consistency, so that they can start winning games because of him as opposed to in spite of him.
Impressive End to the Season
Two players on the Tampa Bay defensive line stood out and gave themselves a boost heading into the offseason. Michael Bennett is due to hit free agency and, while he’s had a nice season, this was the first game where he’s really impressed against a top offensive tackle in Atlanta’s Tyson Clabo. Finishing the game with a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 9.6 and a Run Stop Percentage of 8.3%, Bennett has put himself in line for a nice pay day this off-season.
Though he wasn’t prolific as a pass rusher, where he had a PRP Rating of 5.8 with a hit and a hurry from 26 pass rushing snaps, Da’Quan Bowers impressive, albeit limited play against the run saw him finish the game with a Run Stop Percentage of 33.3%. Injuries have hindered Bowers play in Tampa since arriving but he has shown signs of being an excellent defensive player, if he could just stay healthy.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Nothing Doing on the Ground
In a game against a Tampa Bay team that is better than anyone else, statistically, against the run, it was always going to be tough for the Falcons to get much going on the ground. That proved to be the case on most of their 16 rushing attempts, with 33 of their 65 rushing yards coming on two plays.
Their struggles were in part down to some poor run blocking causing them to struggle to generate much push against a strong Tampa Bay defensive line, with tight end Tony Gonzalez in particular struggling. Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner each forced a missed tackle from five and six rushing attempts respectively, but with the Falcons chasing the game they never got the chance to do more with extra carries.
Mixed Results on the Defensive Line
Though the performance on the whole was disappointing for all the Falcons, defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux and Vance Walker both had productive days, especially against the run. With all five of his tackles resulting in a defensive stop, coming on just 16 plays against the run, Walker finished the game with an impressive Run Stop Percentage of 31.3%. Babineaux wasn’t quite as dominant but his Run Stop Percentage of 11.1%, with two tackles resulting in a defensive stop from 18 plays against the run, is still impressive enough.
The flip side of that was the play of Corey Peters, who saw the most snaps against the run of any of the Falcons defensive linemen. Looking for much of the game like he had no interest in shedding his blocker, Peters made just one tackle which resulted in a defensive stop and failing to generate any pressure from 22 pass rushing snaps.
Linebackers Cover Well
Another area where the Falcons players looked like they wanted to do something more than just get to the bye week without picking up an injury was in the performance of their linebackers in coverage. Akeem Dent didn’t have a pass thrown into his coverage yet still was able to record a pass breakup on 1st-and-10 with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
Stephen Nicholas might not have broken up any passes but coming out of the game having allowed just one reception for 12 yards is certainly not something to turn your nose up at. Sean Weatherspoon was guilty of allowing the 26 yard completion to Tampa Bay tight end Luke Stocker, but the only other reception to come from the five passes thrown into his coverage went for (-2) yards.
– Despite impressive seasons by Vincent Jackson, Roddy White and Julio Jones, it was Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams and Atlanta’s Jacquizz Rodgers who led their respective teams in catches.
– Martin’s 142 yards on the ground were more than double the 67 yards combined by the other 6 players in the game with a rushing attempt.
– The Falcons offensive line had a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 83.9 compared with Tampa Bay’s 85.4, with the Buccaneers allowing three less total pressures.
PFF Game Ball
While it wasn’t his best performance of the year, it was Doug Martin’s long touchdown run late in the third quarter that gave Tampa Bay the cushion they needed.