We are well past the point of this being a “lost” season for the Atlanta Falcons, and many people are in to full-fledged “tanking” mode with the team. However, the Birds have an extremely winnable game on Sunday, and no matter which way you’re rooting for this one to go, it’s going to be a tightly contested game.
Opponent - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8, 1-4 at home)
Time/TV - 1:00 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Bucs Defense
Yikes. The wheels came off last week in Seattle, but the Bucs aren’t the Seahawks. Matt Ryan and the passing game still rank 6th in the NFL in yards per game at 275.1, and that should be good against a Bucs defense that has struggled a bit through the air. Unfortunately, Darrelle Revis is healthy for this game, and that means trouble for an already hobbling Roddy White.
On the bright side, Tony Gonzalez should be able to get freed from the tyranny of double coverage (at least partially), and Tampa has been brutally bad against secondary wide receiving targets, which provides some light for Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, and Darius Johnson. If the Falcons move the ball at all here, it will be through the air, and Matt Ryan is due for a big game.
The ground game will be very difficult to bank on. Tampa Bay has been excellent against the run this season, allowing just 95.8 yards per game (5th in the NFL), and the Falcons have been historically bad in the same category, ranking last in the NFL at 64.3 yards per game. Steven Jackson should, in theory, be gaining strength, but there’s a possibility that he’s simply lost a step, and the offensive line has visibly struggled to open running lanes for anyone this season.
Falcons Defense vs. Bucs Offense
Fortunately for the Falcons, the recipe is much, much better on this side of the ball than it has been in recent weeks, and that begins with the Bucs personnel. Tampa Bay is trotting out Mike Glennon at quarterback, and while he’s been better than most (including myself) anticipated (195 yards per game, 9 TD, 4 INT), he’s also not the caliber of guys like Russell Wilson. The other (and more important) talent loss for Tampa Bay is that they are now down to their 3rd and 4th-string running backs, as Doug Martin is gone for the year, and he was joined by backup Mike James, who went down last week.
This should give the Falcons a fighting chance to get stops this week, and the return of Sean Weatherspoon to the lineup is another bright spot. However, Atlanta is in the bottom 7 in the league in both rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed, shining light on what has been a below-average (to be kind) unit this season.
Pass rush could be crucial here, and the Falcons are currently 28th in the league in sacks at just 16 on the season. If Glennon is too comfortable, he should be able to find guys like Vincent Jackson (who may be the best offensive player on the field for either team), and that’s trouble.
Tampa is coming off of their first win of the season last week in Miami, but that doesn’t mean that they are a better football team than even this edition of the Falcons. Greg Schiano and company are a full-on mess at this point, and even on the road, it would be tough for me to pick against Matt Ryan and Mike Smith against Mike Glennon and Greg Schiano. The Falcons grab a win here if anything is right with the world.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday (posted in the morning), and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!