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Week 2: Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons



Last game: The Atlanta Falcons come to town Sunday riding the feel-good momentum of a convincing 34-21 butt kicking of the Detroit Lions, some pundits' darling team this year based on their "upgraded" defense.  (Heh... we'll give you a chance to make another selection, guys.)  Atlanta quickly jumped to a 21-0 lead and never looked back.  Atlanta rolled up 317 yards on the ground and Matt Ryan completed an impressive 69% of his passes, with his first going to Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard TD (yea, so it was mainly based on YAC, but hey, at least he found him open!). (OT: think the Lions regret giving up Shaun Rogers?  Man, that was an awful performance up front by Detroit against a suspect offensive line.)  On defense, the Lions were able to do some nice things against the Atlanta secondary.  Jon Kitna completed 24 of 33 passes for 262 yards and 2 TDs.  He found Calvin Johnson 7 times for 107 yards and completed passes to 8 different receivers. However, the guys up front stuffed newbie Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson (still without his luggage), holding them to a measly 3 yards on 20 carries combined.  Abraham sacked Kitna an impressive 3 times. 

Offensive sets and tendencies:  Clearly Atlanta's focus will be to control the time of possession and the tempo of the game on the ground with their impressive pair of RBs.  No rocket science here.  Rookie Quarterback + Thunder/Lightning running back combo + meh WRs = run the ball early, late, and often and mix up passes under 15 yards.  They'll change up their formations and sets and run out of all of them... shotgun, pro sets, strong sets, weak sets, I-formation, etc.  As such, one of the major keys to the game is whether the interior of the Falcon offensive line can get a push against Hovan and Haye in the middle and establish running lanes for Turner to pop off 5+ yards a carry.  Atlanta will need to create short down and distance options, as they lack a consistent deep passing game to bail themselves out of long yardage situations.  Also, they can create some matchup problems by sliding Jerious Norwood into the slot and match him up with a LB or safety, or run a wheel or seam route out of the backfield and match him up against a LB.  I would look for the Falcons to utilize the speedy Norwood in this manner on Sunday.  If the Bucs key on stopping Turner and Atlanta's power running game, Norwood could be the forgotten man and could be in line for a big game. 

Defensive sets and tendencies: Front 7, eh... ok.  Keith Brooking will tackle everything on the weak side within 5 yards of the LOS.  The jury's still out on Chris Lofton as middle backer.  Atlanta runs a 4-3, even though Grady Jackson has the size and skills to be a prototypical NT in a 3-4 set.  Jackson demands double teams from the guard and center, leaving the left tackle often matched up one on one with manchild John Abraham, who terrorized opposing quarterbacks last year for 10 sacks and brought down Jon Kitna 3 times last week.  Despite Abraham's production, Atlanta ranked near the bottom of the league last year in sacks (thanks to Jamaal Anderson's disappearance last year) and will depend upon the emergence of Anderson this year as a pass rushing force and the (hefty) presence of Jackson to create room for the ends to stunt and the linebackers to blitz up the middle.  A pass rush will be even more important this year than last, with an already questionable secondary taking a step backwards from the loss of DeAngelo Hall to free agency.  As such, if the front 7 can't pressure opposing QBs to move outside the pocket or alter their throws, this defense is going to give up yards and points in massive quantities.  Even though Mike Smith ran an aggressive defensive scheme in Jacksonville, with Chris Houston and Brent Grims starting at the corner spots, I'd expect to see Atlanta play a fair share of zone coverage this year, especially if the pass rush isn't top notch.  Their corners just aren't good enough to cover upper tier WRs one on one, although I think late addition Dominique Foxworth might take over at one corner spot this year and be productive in man coverage.  Lawyer Milloy can't quite get over in Cover 2 to help out the corners on deep patterns like he used to. 

Last matchup with the Bucs:  The Bucs made history in last year's 37-3 shellacking of the dreadful Falcons, with Michael Spurlock returning a kickoff 90 yards for the team's first ever KO return TD, ending 30 years of futility. 

Line: Tampa Bay (-8.5)

Prediction: Bucs focus on shutting down Turner and the running game between the tackles, while secondary stifles the hot-and-cold Atlanta WRs.  Graham goes for over 100 and Griese has a decent, but not great day to keep the QB controversy churning in Tampa.  Tampa Bay 20, Atlanta 13