Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
After the disappointment of last week’s loss to the Bengals the Falcons have the opportunity for a quick turnaround as they host division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later tonight. The Bucs come into the game 0-2 after two close losses to the Panthers and the Rams. After another off season full of hype about their new acquisitions the 2014 Bucs haven’t gotten off to the start they wanted, however, a win against a division rival would go a long way to righting the Bucs early season woes.
Analyzing the Bucs Offense:
Through two games it looks as though the key to stopping the Bucs offense is to stop their ground game. In week 1 vs the Panthers the Bucs rushed 17 times for 102 yards which by itself looks like a perfectly respectable stat. However, 54 of those yards came on a run by the FB. If we exclude this one run the Bucs rushed 16 times for 48 yards (3.0 YPC). With the Bucs never able to establish the run the passing game never settled into a rhythm as Josh McCown was pressured and hit all game long. With the running game not firing the Bucs also found themselves in a lot of long passing downs which made it easy for the Panthers to play everything in front of them while the d-line teed off on McCown.
In week 2 vs the Rams the Bucs were able to run the ball effectively and if not for Lovie Smith’s ultra conservative gameplan the Bucs would have walked away with a victory. Lovie Smith was out of coaching last year in a move which he insists made him a better coach, and yet through two games Smith looks to be exactly the same coach he was when he lost his job as Chicago Bears HC. In Chicago Smith’s teams were built around playing good defense and having an offence that did just enough to get by. So far it doesn’t look as though Smith’s Bucs are any different to his old Bears. For the most part the Bucs have played good defense but the offense looks totally uninspired at present. Smith looks content to run the ball as much as possible while having McCown run a limited passing game that is mainly focused on short and intermediate passes and very few throws down the field.
Through two games it seems clear that Smith has very little faith in McCown despite the fact that Smith chose him as his QB. McCown has made some comical mistakes this year but if Smith is already showing a lack of faith then it’s hardly going to inspire confidence for the rest of the season. If the Falcons want to rattle McCown then they need to hit him and hit him often. Now obviously this is the Falcons so expecting any sort of contact on an opposing QB is being widely optimistic but we can hope.
One thing that will help the Falcons is the Bucs offensive line which has been a problem area ever since camp kicked off. A lot has been made of the Falcons lack of pass rush and while they are the only team without a sack this year they have played against two good offensive lines. Now this is no excuse for the defense, the pass rush has been embarrassing, but they will have a better chance of getting to the QB vs the Bucs than they did against either the Saints or the Bengals.
The Bucs have some nice weapons on offense but a couple of these will be out vs the Falcons. Running Back Doug Martin showed flashes of being a star particularly in his rookie season but if reports are true it’s very unlikely he suits up. If this is the case the Bucs will hand the rock to Bobby Rainey who is a very good player in his own right. Rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is also out of the lineup.
At WR the Bucs boast the imposing duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans who are both big bodied receivers. If Lovie Smith allows it the Bucs could potentially have some success in contested catch situations as the Falcons secondary is not the tallest.
The Bucs offense has looked pretty anemic so far this year and although the Falcons have struggled on D this is a good opportunity for this defense to have its ‘coming out party’ against an offense that looks severely limited by both its offensive line and its QB. The key once again for the Falcons defense will be to stop the Bucs running game. Stop and the ground game and you stop the Bucs.
Analyzing the Bucs Defense:
On the defensive side of the ball everything goes through defensive tackle Gerald McCoy who if reports are true won’t be playing tonight. McCoy has given the Falcons nightmares in recent years and so the fact that he doesn’t suit up tonight is a huge break for the Falcons offensive line which was given a fairly torrid time by the Bengals. The Bucs are pretty banged up along the defensive line at the moment, Adrian Clayborn was recently put on season ending IR and new signee Michael Johnson is only listed as questionable for tonight’s game with an ankle injury. Da’Quan Bowers and William Gholston are also both on the injury report but both are listed as probable. With McCoy not playing the Falcons offensive line will have a much easier task at hand tonight and they should hopefully be able to give Ryan the time to expose the holes in the ‘Tampa 2’ defense that Lovie Smith loves to run.
At linebacker the Bucs have Lavonte David who needs no introduction, David is one of the league’s best 4-3 linebackers as the Falcons got to witness last year when David almost single handedly stopped the Falcons offense. The Bucs will be without starting middle linebacker Mason Foster who has been ruled out of tonight’s game. Foster isn’t an exceptional player but his loss will be big for the Bucs as the middle of their defense now looks a lot less intimidating without both McCoy and Foster.
The Bucs obviously lost Darrelle Revis this offseason but they replaced him with Alterran Verner who is a very good player in his own right. Verner will most likely be lined up opposite Roddy White who has not practiced all week. Personally I feel White’s never fully recovered from his injuries last year and it would be no surprise if Verner is able to effectively shut him down tonight.
At safety the Bucs have two safeties who I feel Matt Ryan should target all game. The Falcons have shown before that they are not afraid to test the Bucs deep so they clearly aren’t threatened by either Dashon Goldson or Mark Barron who are both suspect in pass coverage. If the Falcons can establish the run early it should bring the safeties forward and open up the deep play action shots for later in the game.
Overall the Bucs defensive unit is fairly solid but with the injuries they currently have the Falcons should be able to sweep them aside fairly easily if things go to plan. Lovie Smith loves to run his ‘Tampa 2’ defense which is renowned for being a ‘bend but not break’ scheme. This system can be effective if you have the right personnel but with the injuries the Bucs currently have Matt Ryan should be able to pick apart this defense fairly easily.
There is no doubt that the Bucs have some nice players on their team and the franchise does look to be slowly going in the right direction. However, the Falcons are coming off a disappointing loss at the weekend and will undoubtedly be out for revenge. The Bucs may stick around for a couple of quarters but in the end I expect the Falcons to run out comfortable winners.