It’s been an extremely long wait for the Atlanta Falcons since their untimely home loss to the New York Jets last Monday night, but it’s time for the Dirty Birds to get back on the field. Today, we’ll examine what’s on tap when the team the Bucs on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Opponent - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5, 0-2 on Road)
Time/TV - 1:00 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Bucs Defense
Since we last met for an actual game, the Falcons lost yet another player for the season in the form of Julio Jones. That is, of course, “old news” at this point, but entering the game on Sunday, it doesn’t appear that Matt Ryan will have the services of either of his other high-profile skill players. Both Roddy White and Steven Jackson have been absent from practice all week (including Friday), and multiple outlets are now reporting, as of Friday afternoon, that both players (along with OT Sam Baker) have been officially ruled out. One additional note on this announcement is that ends an incredible, 133-game streak of consecutive games from Roddy White, and that alone tells you just how banged-up he is.
With that, the Falcons will presumably rely heavily on quarterback Matt Ryan to work wonders even with a limited cast of characters. Ryan has been tremendous all season, placing in the top-10 among QB’s in passing yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating, but he’ll have his work cut out for him here. Tony Gonzalez has come on strong with Jones and White limited and/or out, and he’ll be the de facto #1 receiver in this spot. On the outside, look for Harry Douglas to get the nod, but Dirk Koetter will also be forced to turn to some combination of Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, and Brian Robiskie for support.
In the backfield, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have performed very admirably in the absence of Jackson this year. Unfortunately, neither guy is very dynamic, and each is averaging 4.0 yards per carry or less through a combined 80 totes of the ball. To pile on, Tampa Bay has been extremely proficient in rushing defense over the past 2 seasons, and Gerald McCoy anchors a nasty front seven for the Bucs.
Through the air, Tampa Bay is a bit more susceptible, as they rank 16th in passing yards allowed per game at just under 250 per contest. In my opinion, Koetter and Ryan should open things up a bit and fight against the temptation to go “into their shell” in the absence of the established wide receiving options. Davis, Cone, and company aren’t electric, but with Ryan at the helm, they should be good enough.
Falcons Defense vs. Bucs Offense
This is a rare spot in which the Falcons defense isn’t the unit to worry about (at least not solely). Tampa Bay is being quarterbacked by rookie Mike Glennon, and he’s been less than stellar in 2 starts. The big-armed QB does have 3 touchdowns in the 2 games, but he’s turned the ball over regularly, and his 5.4 yards per attempt average is ghastly. In total, the Bucs are dead last (32nd) among all NFL teams in passing yards per game with less than 200, and that can’t all be blamed on the recently jettisoned Josh Freeman. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are dangerous, but the Falcons should have no issue teeing off on Glennon.
On the ground, Tampa is significantly better, simply because of Doug Martin. The 2nd-year running back is having a “down” year, but he’s still averaging north of 80 rushing yards per game, and he’s a threat for the big play on every touch. The Bucs will be without all-Pro guard Carl Nicks in this game (due to MRSA, yikes), but Martin shouldn’t be ignored at any point.
For perspective, the Bucs are 31st in the league in points per game (less than 13) and if it wasn’t for the horrid Jacksonville Jaguars, they would rank last by a significant margin. Even the struggling Falcons defense (now without safety Shann Schillinger, who has been released) should be able to contain Tampa Bay’s offense (especially at home), and anything north of 20 points allowed would be a disappointment.
The term “must win” was thrown around (by me and others) before the Jets game, and it didn’t exactly work out as expected. However, if the Falcons have any prayer of resurrecting this season and making a legitimate run toward the playoffs, this isn’t a game they can lose, regardless of the injury circumstances. With a gun to my head, I think the Falcons win and win comfortably, but nothing would shock me at this stage.
Stay tuned for a game thread this evening (posted in the afternoon), and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!