Historically, the Buccaneers have caused a lot of problems for the Falcons as Atlanta has a 5-9 record against the Bucs since 2002. It has been a struggle for the Falcons to win on the road as they have lost four of their last five games in the bay.
Falcons Defense vs. Bucs Offense
On offense, the Bucs are going to be a completely new team in 2009. The biggest changes will be at the quarterback and running back positions.
The team lost veteran Jeff Garcia and they are now left with a lot of question marks. Backup Brian Griese is a candidate but first round draft choice Josh Freeman is also a competitor for the starting job. Whichever way Tampa Bay goes, there is either a lack of talent or experience and the passing game will likely be in 2009.
One of the positives for the Bucs in games versus the Falcons is that Atlanta has struggled stopping opponents passing games giving up over 220 yards per game. If the Bucs are able to protect whoever is playing under center they could have a chance to move the ball through the air.
The biggest player addition for Tampa Bay in the offseason was running back Derrick Ward from New York. Ward is a solid runner who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2008 but only found the goal line twice the entire year. His production level could be the key against what will be a much improved Falcons defense.
The Falcons defense was shaky at times last year but held fairly solid against the Bucs giving up 24 and 10 points in their two meetings. If the Falcons can improve on the defensive line by shutting down the run and putting pressure on the quarterback they should be able to keep the Tampa Bay offense in check.
Falcons Offense vs. Bucs Defense
The Falcons offense versus the Bucs defense will be the most compelling matchup to watch between these two teams. Atlanta was one of the top ten teams in points per game and ranked second in rushing yards per game.
Tampa Bay gave up 118.8 yards rushing per game to opponents and the Falcons will likely look to take advantage by featuring Turner many times. In Atlanta’s win against the Bucs last year Turner rushed for 152 yards on a career-high 32 carries.
An interesting matchup between the two teams is the Falcons passing game as they take on the fourth best passing defense from last year. Although Atlanta was not highly ranked in their passing offense they still placed 17th in yards per game while only ranking 29th in passing attempts.
Matt Ryan was very efficient with his throws despite being limited in his attempts. In 2009 as the playbook opens up more for Ryan the coaching staff will allow him to throw more and the passing game will be dangerous. The addition of Tony Gonzalez doesn’t hurt anything either.
Although the Bucs are historically a very tough defense to play against, they will have a hard time with the Falcons. If Tampa cannot slow down the Falcons rushing attack then look for Atlanta to put up a lot of points. Matt Ryan also has a lot of options in this matchup especially coming off play action if Turner is running the ball effectively.
Atlanta should feel comfortable against the Bucs in the special teams department. The Falcons are solid with veteran place kicker Jason Elam. Atlanta ranked second in field goal percentage while the Bucs came in with a ranking of 18th.
In the return game, the two teams are very similar with the Bucs averaging 24.8 yards per return and the Falcons at 23.9. Neither team has a real standout player in their return game but the Bucs did take one return to the house in 2008.
The special teams are fairly even between the two teams. Atlanta has a slight advantage because of the consistency from Jason Elam and the versatility of punter and kickoff man Michael Koenen.
The Bucs and Falcons have always been a good matchup but 2009 may not live up to the historically close games fans are accustomed to.
Despite the success that Tampa Bay had in 2008 they will likely take a step back this year as they rebuild their coaching staff and have a lot of question marks on the offense. The Falcons defense will be improved from last year and will make things very tough on whoever the Bucs put under center.
Although the Bucs defense has always been great, look for a mediocre performance against the Falcons. Atlanta will have a star-studded cast on offense that will make it very hard for Tampa Bay to compete.
Look for the Falcons to win both games against the Bucs. Atlanta is in a better position because of the direction the team is moving under Mike Smith and the talent that Atlanta has on the offensive side of the ball. Tampa Bay will not be able to stop both the run and the pass and either Matt Ryan or Michael Turner will step up big and lead the Falcons to victory.