After the abyssmal performance by the Buccaneers last week, the fanbase has been dreading this very public matchup against division rivals the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football. The good news is we always play Atlanta hard and the games are usually close. The bad news is after watching and analyzing all of our division rivals’ 2013 seasons (keep an eye out for our Know Your Enemy series), we believe the Atlanta Falcons are the best team in the division.
Buccaneers Offense against Falcons Defense
After watching the first two Falcons games, it is clear the defense has left a lot to be desired. It is very similar to our defense. The linebackers are often in coverage (and out of position), quarterback pressure is almost non-existent, the secondary is often left compensating for the lack of help from the linebackers and the tackling is not that great. Basically, their defense is not known to be the team’s strength.
What does that mean for our offense? A balanced approach is the way to go. Our best bet to putting points on the board is getting the ball to our giant receivers downfield. A medium-to-long ball in the seams could net us chunk yardage and scores. Last week against the Bengals, the Falcons had a hard time containing RBs Giovani Bernard (#25) and Jeremy Hill (#32), so handing RB Bobby Rainey (#43) the ball could not only get us down the field slowly-but-surely, but also keep the ball out of QB Matt Ryan‘s (#2) hands.
Our offensive line should stand a chance against this defensive line as it isn’t known for its pass rush. This should give QB Josh McCown (#12) time to throw the ball, helping to temper his tendency to make boneheaded decisions under pressure.
Buccaneers Defense against Falcons Offense
With a much-improved offensive line and a receiving corps that is the envy of the league, the Falcons offense presents a challenge for our questionable defense.
In order to contain WRs Julio Jones (#11), Roddy White (#84) and Harry Douglas (#83) our tackling has to be on-point. These receivers are very slippery and known for yards after the catch. Scheme-wise, our linebackers have been dropping back into coverage but are often left looking confused, leaving our secondary understaffed. This could be a liability that Matty Ice and crew exploit.
We don’t expect the defensive line to get a lot of pressure on Ryan given that the Falcons spent the off-season shoring up its offensive line. However, the Buccaneers defensive line did seem to find a spark in the second half of last game, so they could be a wildcard.
The Falcons running game is also a weapon we have to contain. This running back corps is sturdy and hard hitting. They do not attempt to evade tackles; they run through them. The onus will be on our front seven to contain them.
The Falcons offense is a come-from-behind team, so overall our best defense will be a good offense.
WR/PR/KR Devin Hester was largely responsible for taking Head Coach Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl in 2007. That season he scored 6 non-offensive touchdowns for the Bears (in his rookie season, no less). He was the first player to score a touchdown on an opening kick return in the Super Bowl. Drafted by Lovie, Hester holds numerous records earned during his role as punt/kick returner, including: most combined career special teams returns for touchdowns, most non-offensive touchdowns, most combined kick return touchdowns in a season.
And now he plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Our division rivals. That we play twice a year.
Hester is like Lovie’s unicorn: Lovie has been looking for his next Devin Hester since 2012, when Hester failed to return even one return for a touchdown for the Bears and his role was substantially cut. Lovie was fired at the end of the season and Hester considered retirement.
While Hester’s role on the Falcons is not a large one like it was on the Bears, the personal connection here is too great to be dismissed.
This game has the potential to be ugly. Both defenses are sloppy at best. Our offense is questionable at best but stands a chance against the Falcons mediocre defense with a balanced approach (and McCown keeping his head). Our defensive performance is concerning. But with good tackling to control their receivers and the same spark we saw in the defensive line in the second half last week, it may prove to be a wildcard. Let’s make this a game, Bucs!