ReFo: Falcons @ Buccaneers, Week 12
This was an entertaining, highly competitive NFC South matchup featuring seven lead changes and a battle of two high-powered offenses. The Falcons were able to overcome a -2 turnover differential with the help of some well-timed explosive plays and third-down conversions. The win puts them at 10-1 — a measure of their ability to consistently win close games — and atop the NFC standings in position to capture the No. 1 playoff seed.
Tampa remains in the wild card race at 6-5, but they’ll definitely have to earn it with trips to Denver, New Orleans, and Atlanta remaining on the schedule.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Dunta and Asante
The Falcons were able to slow down the scorching Tampa Bay offense in large part due to the outstanding play in the secondary. No player had a better day than Dunta Robinson (+4.1) with perhaps his best overall performance of the season. In coverage, Robinson was about as good as it gets, breaking up a pass and allowing just one catch for 10 yards. But his best work was done near the line of scrimmage, where he produced three stops and one of the team’s two sacks. On the opposite side of the field, Asante Samuel had a strong game as well, allowing just two of five passes into his coverage to be completed for 23 yards, though he dropped two potential interceptions in the second half.
Looking for Answers at Running Back
It’s becoming more and more apparent with each passing week that Michael Turner’s days as a starting-caliber running back are coming to an end. Against the Bucs, Turner carried the ball 13 times for just 17 yards, marking the second time in three games he’s gained fewer than 1.5 yards per carry. And if you take away his long run of 9 yards, the 30-year old running back averaged under 0.7 yards on 12 attempts. Fortunately, Jacquizz Rodgers (+2.5) played well enough to make up for the lackluster play of Turner. Tying his career high with 10 carries, Rodgers showed his elusiveness in the open field, as he forced four missed tackles and gained 30 of his 49 yards after initial contact. He also added a 32-yard reception, on which he broke two additional tackles.
But as good as he was in space, Rodgers also displayed why he doesn’t appear to be the long-term solution for a team that’s averaging just 3.6 yards a rush on the season; on his four carries between the tackles, the second-year back was held to only eight yards and was unable to get away from any defenders.
Julio Jones (+2.9 receiving) has been battling injuries the past few weeks, though you certainly wouldn’t know that from watching his performance against the Bucs. Jones was a dangerous target from start to finish, catching six of eight passes thrown his way for 147 yards. And none was bigger than his 80-yard touchdown reception at 8:26 of the third quarter, which put the Falcons ahead, just one play after the Bucs had taken the lead on a 42-yard Connor Barth field goal.
The receiver wasn’t without a few negative plays on the day, though, as he was flagged for offensive pass interference in the end zone, dropped a pass (thrown behind him, but still very catchable), and struggled as a run blocker. Still, the Falcons will easily tolerate a few mistakes from a young player as talented and productive as Jones.
Tampa – Three Performances of Note
Though Matt Ryan was just two of four for 21 yards and an interception on passes under pressure, the Tampa Bay defense just didn’t get to him nearly often enough, pressuring him on just six of his 34 drop-backs. Left end Michael Bennett (-3.4) had a particularly bad day as he failed to disrupt Ryan even once on his 28 pass rushes, only the second time in the past two seasons he’s failed to record a QB pressure. A matchup we highlighted going into the game was Gerald McCoy versus the interior line of the Falcons. And though he was strong against the run, McCoy, like Bennett, failed to make much of an impact rushing the passer, producing a single hurry. Among Tampa Bay’s front seven, only Da’Quan Bowers graded positively for his efforts rushing the passer, producing a team-leading two pressures on 19 snaps.
Freeman’s Missed Opportunities
While he certainly didn’t play terribly, Josh Freeman (+1.6) wasn’t at his best either. He completed 19 passes for 256 yards on an impressive 8.5 yards per attempt, but was held without a touchdown pass for the first time all season. That was largely his own doing, however, as he missed a number of throws, none more egregious than the one at 8:49 in the third quarter when he overthrew a wide open Mike Williams down the right sideline on what should’ve been a sure touchdown pass. Freeman also threw two passes that were nearly intercepted.
The QB was also shakier than normal when under pressure, completing just three of nine passes for 33 yards in such situations, below his average completion percentage of 45.7% under pressure for the season. And it was not as if the Falcons were getting to Freeman more often than normal; he was pressured on 34% of his drop-backs — almost exactly his season average — while his average Time To Throw was 2.87 seconds, longer than his average of 2.81 seconds for the year.
With Aqib Talib gone and Eric Wright out with an injury, the Buccaneers needed their young corners to come up with a big performance against one of the league’s most talented receiving groups. Unfortunately, their play in coverage wasn’t quite good enough to pull out the win. Starters Leonard Johnson (-1.3 coverage) and EJ Biggers combined to surrender 10 catches in 11 targets for 180 yards with no pass defenses. Biggers at least provided a big play as a pass rusher, getting a momentous sack and forced-fumble early in the fourth quarter. The same can’t be said for Johnson, though, as the rookie missed two tackles, while Ryan had a perfect passer rating when targeting him, largely the product of getting beaten for an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Their nickel corners didn’t fare much better as both LeQuan Lewis (-1.7) and Danny Gorrer graded negatively despite only playing 20 snaps each. Gorrer actually wasn’t horrible after replacing Lewis late in the first half, as he gave up an average of just 4.6 yards in his five targets. However, a pair of fourth-quarter mistakes, including giving up the back-breaking first down reception with 1:55 to go in the game, helped put the Falcons over the top.
Tampa’s secondary certainly didn’t receive much help from the pass rush, but they have to play better with Peyton Manning and a trip to Denver next on the schedule.
– Former teammates at South Carolina, Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson each recorded a season-high snap count, combining for 29 plays on the Atlanta defensive line.
– Matt Ryan attempted just nine passes longer than 10 yards in the air, including just one over 20 yards.
– After a second straight sub-par game with five pressures given up, Donald Penn is now tied for the ninth-lowest Pass Blocking Efficiency of all offensive tackles.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Tyson Clabo for his work in pass protection, allowing no pressure against a formidable Tampa front.