Falcons at Bucs, Nov. 29
Bucs at Falcons, Jan. 3, 2010
You have to give Falcons' coach Mike Smith more credit than just NFL Coach of the Year. He turned a moribund franchise into a winner just a year after the team appeared to be in shambles.
His quarterback, Matt Ryan, did something few rookie quarterbacks are able to do. He turned the Falcons into winners while Smith created an offense that would be easy for Ryan to use. Basically, it consisted of giving the ball to Michael Turner, letting the defense collapse in the box, then letting Ryan throw safe passes.
It worked. Ryan proved himself as a bona fide NFL quarterback and Michael Vick was all but forgotten by Falcons fans. Turner emerged as one of the top running backs in the NFL and the defense was just good enough to get by.
One thing the Falcons didn’t do well last year was play the Bucs. They lost in Tampa on Week Two, 24-9, in a game that wasn’t even close. It took overtime to beat the Bucs, 13-10, in late December, marking the second loss in a four-game slide that ended the Bucs' playoff hopes.
Atlanta is a good matchup for the Bucs. Ryan isn’t a down field passer, at least yet, and the Bucs were able to shut down Turner reasonably well in Week Two. The Bucs can stuff the box and force Ryan to throw down field, a talent that Ryan is still developing.
It doesn’t hurt that Ryan’s Boston College head coach, Jeff Jagodzinski, is the Bucs' offensive coordinator and my be able to provide some inside information on Ryan. Ryan does have some weapons that can exploit the Bucs' secondary.
Wide receiver Roddy White played in the Pro Bowl and Michael Jenkins is coming off of his best season. To make things even more difficult, the Falcons added Tony Gonzalez, arguably the best tight end in the game. The Bucs are going to have to find some answers in an undermanned secondary.
Smith has said that Ryan is still a work in progress, so Turner will still be the main man in the backfield. By the time the Bucs and Falcons finally face off in Tampa on Nov. 29, the Bucs hope to have their middle two in the box set with Chris Hovan and, if he’s ready, rookie Roy Miller. Both are solid stuffers in the middle.
Last season, with Hovan and Ryan Sims in the box, Turner was held to only 42 yards in Week Two, but ran wild in Week 15 when he went for 152 yards on 32 carries just after defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin resigned and the Bucs seemed to have hung it up for the season.
Ryan struggled mightily in the first game against the Bucs last season, but it was only his second NFL start. He spent most of the overtime win handing off to Turner. His 29.6 passer rating in the loss at Tampa was easily his worst of the season.
The Falcons had eight draft picks this season and spent seven of them on defense. They also picked up former Jacksonville Jaguar Mike Peterson as a free agent. It’s a defense that bends but doesn’t break and doesn’t play into the Bucs' hands, since the Bucs don’t sport a big play offense right now. The Falcons' first round pick defensive tackle, Peria Jerry, is a great run stuffer and second-round pick safety. William Moore was a great catch for the Falcons, which needed an aggressive safety who hits like a jackhammer.
Smith preached anger and aggression at his previous stops in Baltimore and Jacksonville, and made broad changes after the Falcons were routed in the playoffs. Gone are Keith Brooking, Grady Jackson, and Lawyer Malloy. Instead, the Falcons' defense is redesigned, but, fortunately, the Bucs won’t face the Falcons until their 11th game and will have time to get a feel for the defense.
For the Bucs to win, Hovan, Miller, and maybe Sims will have to stuff Turner while Gaines Adams and Stylez White stay in Ryan’s face. On offense, the Falcons have that new look, so expect Jagodzinski and coach Raheem Morris to stay up late watching film to see how the new Falcons defense breaks out.
Last Second Note
Am I the only person on the planet who is looking forward to the game this season when the Bucs wear their throwback orange and white uniforms? I loved those uniforms when I was a little kid and hope they use them at a home game. It’s about time the Bucs agreed to join the rest of the league in wearing the throwbacks at least once in a season. In fact, I liked the old uniforms better than the pewter they wear now.