TB-ATL Grades: Buccaneers pound interior of Falcons' defense
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Buccaneers’ 23-20 win over the Falcons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– After breaking onto the scene as a rookie, HB Doug Martin (+0.9) has had a couple of down seasons impacted by injury. Lovie Smith will be delighted to have him back healthy, again because his performances this season put him up there with the best in the league at the moment. This was actually his worst-graded game of 2015, which goes to show how consistent he has been. Martin has graded positively in every game so far, and is second in our RB rankings only behind the now-injured Le’Veon Bell. His numbers look mediocre in this contest, with 23 carries for 71 yards, but 54 of his yards came after contact, and he broke an impressive seven tackles. Martin is second amongst running backs with an elusive rating of 77.4, and has the most combined broken tackles, with 38 on the season. Considering the performance of Tampa’s interior offensive line (see below), the Buccaneers’ running game is a serious threat right now.
– The Buccaneers’ intention going into the game was to pound the interior of the Falcons’ defense. The strategy was successful, thanks in large part to three excellent performances by each of their interior offensive lineman. Rookie Ali Marpet (+6.5) from Hobart led the way, having one of the more impressive games as a run blocker that we’ve seen. Marpet’s +6.2 grade in the ground game was easily the best on the team, but the contributions of Logan Mankins (+3.0) and Joe Hawley (+1.5) were significant, also. After three poor games to start the season, Mankins is playing a lot better. Hawley, a former Falcon, is also beginning to look more comfortable. With just a hit and two hurries allowed between the trio in pass protection (in 38 snaps each), this proved a fine overall day for the Bucs’ interior offensive line.
– DT Gerald McCoy (-0.6) is undoubtedly a talented player, but his production against the run is not where you’d want it to be. Too many times against the Falcons he was pursuing plays up the field, leaving wide lanes for Devonta Freeman. This performance summed up McCoy’s season, as he recorded a negative grade in run defense (-2.1), but positive grade as a pass rusher (+1.2). Three hits and two hurries in 46 rushes is good production by McCoy, but that might be to the detriment of his performance against the run. Over the course of the season, McCoy is 40th (out of 45 qualifiers) in run stop percentage, with just five stops in 142 snaps. In contrast he’s our seventh overall defensive tackle in pass-rush productivity, where his 11 knockdowns are behind only Geno Atkins. Interior pass rush is essential in today’s NFL, but the run game can’t be ignored, either.
RG Ali Marpet (+6.5)
LG Logan Mankins (+2.5)
TE Cameron Brate (+1.9)
DE Howard Jones (+1.8)
DT Akeem Spence (+1.2)
SLB Bruce Carter (+1.2)
C Joe Hawley (+1.2)
– One underrated aspect of the Falcons’ offense is FB Patrick DiMarco (+2.5). Fullbacks aren’t common in the NFL anymore, which ultimately might give the Falcons an advantage. Modern athletic linebackers aren’t used to taking on lead blocks, and DiMarco is probably the best in this facet of the game. He’s way out in front of our fullback rankings, with a +10.5 grade on the season. DiMarco’s impact came on limited opportunities, too, with five positively graded blocks in just 13 snaps. He may not be the flashiest player but there’s value in having a quality FB, which is exactly what DiMarco provides.
– DT Ra’Shede Hageman (-5.1) was having a solid start to his sophomore NFL season—until he came up against the Buccaneers. He managed to record a -4.8 grade in just 23 run defending snaps, mostly due to being blown off the ball with frequency. Hageman is yet to justify the second-round pick invested in him, and performances like this one don’t help. When Paul Soliai is uncharacteristically struggling, too, (-3.0 run defense grade) the Falcons are in trouble. He might need to work on his fitness, because he looked a little gassed in overtime. If there is one positive, it was the performance of rookie fifth-round pick Grady Jarrett, who recorded a pair of stops in just six snaps and a +1.7 grade.
– Pass-rushing has proven an issue for the Falcons’ defense, as well, this season. The issue is that they require sub-packages to generate pressure. That means there’s a cumulative effect when they can’t stop the run on early downs. Against Tampa Bay, DE O’Brien Schofield (+0.9 pass rushing grade) and Adrian Clayborn (+1.9 grade) were the most effective at putting heat on the QB. Schofield generated a sack, two hits, and a hurry in 23 snaps, while Clayborn managed two hits and two hurries in 25 snaps. Clayborn’s performances, in particular, have been surprising. He never looked this good in Tampa, but now has a +5.9 pass rushing grade on the season with five games above +1.0 in a row. In contrast to the third down specialists, the four starters on the defensive line combined for just a +0.2 grade, with one hit and four hurries in 58 rushes. Vic Beasley had three of those hurries, but also had the most opportunities (24). Surprisingly, it was Soliai who graded out best, with a +0.9 grade on the back of a hit and hurry. It would help the Falcons if their starters could contribute more as pass rushers, but they at least now have a multitude of options for bringing the heat.
LG Andy Levitre (+4.5)
TE Jacob Tamme (+2.5)
FB Patrick DiMarco (+2.5)
DT Adrian Clayborn (+2.0)
WR Julio Jones (+1.7)
CB Robert Alford (+1.7)
DT Grady Jarrett (+1.7)