This is what the football season is about. A battle of division rivals for the best record in the NFC South and to remain at the top of the NFC. Living in Atlanta, there is also few games I get more hyped about. The Falcons come off a bye week, which Mike Smith is 1-1 as the coach of the Falcons. Last year, they crushed the 49ers after the bye weeks. Of the 7 teams we have faced, only 2 have winning records. Of those two, the Bucs have put up little fight. Will this game be different or will the Bucs be seen as a team defined by their schedule?
We'll start with the match-up of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling vs our Run D. Our run defense saw some improvement last week against the Arizona Cardinals by containing Beanie Wells. While Turner's stats aren't leading the league in anything, he has the 5th best DYAR. Outside of Snellings big game against the Cardinals he has only been a factor in one game and hasn't scored since that week 2 breakout. Only two teams have been able to slow Turner; San Fransisco and Philadelphia. In both games the Falcons threw over 40 times, which would be the best case scenario for the Bucs. Not that the Bucs are stellar at stopping the pass, but it will give us more opportunities to create turnovers and if we do fail, our offense gets to see the field more often.
Can Matt Ryan beat us? Absolutely. With threats like Tony G and Roddy White the Bucs will be susceptible to getting gashed. The Bucs struggle more with the pass against teams with deeper rosters at WR. Gonzalez is just as good as a 2nd WR, but I don't believe the Falcons have a true #2. White is a stud, there is no question. He has been for a few years and is finally getting the respect he deserves. Jenkins is listed as 2nd and is far from good. Folks at the Falcoholic believe that is he better than people give him credit for, but in the Falcons games I watch I see him unable to get open, he has dropped key passes in the past and doesn't create any matchup problems. Instead of having Jones play the strong side I believe you will see them put Grimm over top of White as much as possible. This can create problems underneath and against the run, where Jones strengths shine. It can also create some match-up problems with Gonzalez. The Bucs will have to get creative with their LB's and Safeties to quiet him. As good as Ruud was last week, If he gets stuck on TonyG we are in trouble. I think it's worth some match-up problems though to properly over White deep. Grimm has been as good as we can ask of him, making Morris decision to stick with him pay off. There is quite a bit of debate around Matt Ryan. It's not whether he should be the starting quarterback, but rather if he is an elite player. I believe he is. I think he will continue to develop and decrease some of his mistakes that keep him from being talked about at the same level as Brees. He only has 5 interceptions which is up there with Freeman and Cassell's rate and worse than only Manning and Bradys.
On the other side of the ball, Freeman has a great opportunity to have a big day. We all hope that it's for 4 quarters instead of just the last, though. Sooner or later, luck is going to run out. Carson Palmer had a huge day against the Falcons just two weeks ago, throwing for over 300 yards. The week before that the Filthy Eagles posted some big numbers on their pass defense. While Brent Grimes is improved and a good cornerback, Robinson has struggled and they could stand an upgrade at both safety positions. The Falcons have improved their pass rush and have roughly 2x as many sacks as the Bucs have posted this season. The Falcons aren't far behind the Bucs in Interceptions and actually have far fewer TD's scored against them in the air. The problem is they just give up long, sustained drives. Atlanta is 31st against the #1 WR according to FO. This bodes well since Freeman loves to look Williams way often.
Against the run, the Falcons are much better. Though Atlanta is terrible at guarding backs out of the backfield, they can stifle LGB. They are physical and have some physical linebackers. You may see fewer carries for LGB this week due to more of a pass-game and how good Williams has been out of the backfield, they will have to utilize him in the run-game to not telegraph their play-calling.
The struggling special teams also faces a good unit against Atlanta. They are tied for the 4th most KR over 20 yards. This sets them up with good Field Position. Barths field goals have been excellent, but his kickoffs have a lot of room for improvement.
Quarterbacks - Advantage Falcons
Running Backs - Adv Falcons
WR - Adv - Push
TE - Adv - Push
OL - Adv Falcons
DL - Adv Falcons
LB - Adv Bucs
DB - Adv Bucs
K - Adv Falcons (Barth is last in touchbacks)
P - Adv Bucs (surprisingly)
KR - Adv Push
Coaching - Two completely different styles. Hard to compare. Slight advantage to Smith though. Morris needs to reign in his enthusiasm, it just makes him look stupid.