Atlanta at Tampa Bay: The Falcons' Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 12
Tampa came in riding a four-game win streak and in the middle of NFC playoff contention.
Many pundits felt Atlanta was primed for the taking versus a physical Buccaneer squad on the road.
In the end, Atlanta won a tough division game by overcoming some of its chief weaknesses and continuing to ride its core strengths.
Let’s take a look at the players and positions that won and lost for Atlanta versus Tampa Bay.
Winner: Run Defense
The Falcons held running back Doug Martin to 50 yards on 21 carries, a 2.4-yard average.
Martin entered the game as the NFL’s third-leading rusher at 1,000 yards, averaging more than five yards per rush.
Tampa Bay as a team came into the game ninth in rushing offense, averaging just under 130 yards per game; Martin’s 50 yards rushing were the Bucs’ total yards rushing for the game.
Containing Martin was paramount for Atlanta, as the Buccaneers made big plays in the passing game that kept them in the game all day.
Allowing Tampa to be balanced may have been the recipe for a loss.
Loser: Pass Defense
While Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman did have game-changing numbers, the Buccaneers' passing game was the catalyst for their success.
Time after time, Tampa Bay was able to go to the air whenever it needed a big play, in key situations to keep drives alive and to eventually get within scoring range.
Receivers Vincent Jackson (five receptions, 96 yards with a long of 31) and Tiquan Underwood (five receptions, 77 yards, with a long of 39), along with tight end Dallas Clark (four receptions, 65 yards with a long of 22) gave the Atlanta defense fits all game.
Winner: Offensive Line (Pass Protection)
All in all, Matt Ryan was very well-protected against the Bucs.
Considering how poor the Falcons’ pass protection has been in 2012, Ryan had great protection throughout the entire game.
As in any NFL game, there was pressure, but nothing out of the ordinary or that legitimately affected Ryan's ability to effectively execute, leading to his 353 passing yards with one touchdown on 26 completions in 32 attempts.
Tampa's lone sack came when defensive back E.J. Biggers blitzed off the edge after showing coverage against a slot receiver, a rusher for whom the offensive line would not have been responsible.
Keeping Ryan upright was the offensive key for Atlanta’s victory.
Loser: Offensive Line (Run Blocking)
While the Falcons had more overall success running the football against Tampa than they've had all season, it was more so due to the game plan.
For the first time in recent memory, if not all season, the game plan was to establish running the football outside, to get the running backs on the perimeter where they had the luxury of open space and smaller defenders.
Moreover, the perimeter scheme relied more on tight ends and receivers to block more so than offensive linemen.
The offensive line was able to zone-reach half a defender, with one responsible for cutting the first edge threat.
When the Falcons did attempt to run between the tackles, the normal result was in effect; there wasn't much to be gained.
In total, Atlanta only rushed for 79 yards (3.3 average) and two touchdowns.
Winner: Dirk Koetter
Koetter’s game plan was one of his best of the season.
He utilized the perimeter run game.
He kept Tampa’s defense off-balance between run and pass.
He maintained balance in the passing game by implementing more short passes, which led to keeping drives alive and allowing the vertical passing game to flourish with more consistency.
Koetter also utilized Jacquizz Rogers as the feature back, leading to the most production from the running back position in several weeks.
Loser: Matt Bryant
Matt Bryant had a day to forget missing two field goals, each in key situations to change the completion of the game.
The first was a 22-yard attempt just before halftime, with the Falcons in position to take the lead.
Bryant hooked it badly to the left, resulting in a knuckle ball that weakly drifted just a few rows up in the lower level of seats.
The second, a 48-yard attempt Bryant pushed wide right, came with eight seconds remaining in the game with Atlanta attempting to go ahead by four points, forcing Tampa to score a touchdown to win the game.
Winner: Julio Jones
After missing the field goal to end the first half, followed by allowing a field goal and giving up the lead to start the second half, the Falcons were stagnant overall.
That all changed, however, as Julio Jones made the play of the game, an 80-yard touchdown reception to give the Atlanta the lead, dispelling Tampa’s mounting momentum.
Overall, Jones had six receptions for 147 yards, a 24.5-yard average, and the touchdown.