There are a few reasons that my team should win this game.
- We're coming home—thank goodness—to the Dome, where we're unbeaten this year.
- We played a decent game last week, showing a good amount of moxie, despite the end result.
- And, of course, we're facing friggin' Tampa Bay.
Shortly before starting this article, I came to the realization that it might be easiest to just analyze the one game the Bucs have won—Week Nine, at home against Green Bay—and then show how the Falcons could not possibly come up short in the ways the Pack did.
But that'd be too easy, and the few DDDB readers out there know my personality by this time: total perfectionist. So I'll break it down as I normally do, but let me remind you all to keep the comparison with the TB-GB game in mind this afternoon.
Because, in all honesty, that is the only game in which the Bucs did enough things right to matter at all.
Tampa Bay Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
There can be just one reason a guy like Cadillac Williams has yet to top 100 yards in a single game this season, and that's a piss-poor line. I have watched him since the very beginning of his Auburn days, and this is a feature NFL back, I guarantee you.
Besides that, the acquisition of Derrick Ward should mean more here. But no, these two studs combined have not clocked 700 yards on the campaign, making me even more certain where to point the finger.
Looking at these guys Tampa puts in the trenches, it's neither inexperience nor old age that is holding them back. It's clearly either playcalling or straight-up ability, as all have played between three and seven years in the league.
This just isn't a bunch that can create holes or pull a back through, and they struggle with stopping penetration on runs, too. Not that we have guys who make too many tackles behind the line these days (looking at you, Jamaal Anderson), but after we held the Giants to 88 on the ground last week at their place, I ask anyone to tell me that the Falcons can't make a tackle within five yards of the handoff against this bunch.
The Bucs are, in general, an awful offense, ranked 29th overall in the league. More on the air game in a sec, but keep in mind that this is actually the better half of their production, and it's still barely getting to the century mark per game (100.9 yards average).
A Sunday ago, we Atlantans enjoyed a return to form for both Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson, our real defensive keys (sorry, John Abraham). It was encouraging, especially on the road. They could only get in trouble today if they are looking ahead too much at the Eagles matchup in a week.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Tampa Bay Rush Defense
A completely healthy Falcons team (I know, such a thing is hard to imagine) would be licking their chops at the prospect of facing this last-ranked rush defense. As is, I'd say we're still probably looking forward to ramming it down the Bucs' throats, considering how Jason Snelling looked last week against a stalwart N.Y. front.
The latest on Michael Turner is that he's expected to play, but that doesn't mean a whole lot to me, personally. I have to expect that a guy still rated "questionable" is at best at 75 percent, so I'd rather keep our third-stringer out there than risk the main man.
Of course, Jerious Norwood is also apparently feeling much better, and I'm not going to pretend that having three bodies is worse than the one we did last week. Throw in that that one had never before started a game, and the ground should serve us well.
Few things would please me more than for us to just eat up clock, giving our defense a veritable bye week.
We won't be facing much pressure; the Bucs rely far too much on Barrett Ruud (86 tackles to second-place-on-the-team Sabby Piscitelli's 59). The fact that the man's only at "probable" certainly doesn't help the case, either.
Tampa has forced just four fumbles and given up 12 rushing TD, 14 runs of 20 or more yards, and 84 first downs on the ground. Their 168.9 yards allowed per game means they're granting almost 100 yards more than league-leader Pittsburgh, and the 4.9-per-attempt is tied for the worst in the L.
Stoppage is just an ugly topic down by the Bay.
Tampa Bay Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
One can at least say this for the Bucs' air game: Things are more interesting since the rookie took over.
Meanwhile, one can at least say this for the Falcons' air defense: Things are always interesting.
Whether or not you think Josh Freeman is "ever going to succeed at the next level," he's starting there right now. He's been no rookie sensation like a certain someone I know and love, but consider that he'll take over the Tampa lead for passing yards this week after getting serious burn in just four games, and I'm not ready to pass a verdict yet.
His ratio (five TD to five INT) is far from great, but he's shown better mobility than the guy on the roster who's got a better one (Byron Leftwich with four-to-three). It's that mobility that's the key to why he's been getting the nod, after all, and it's what's led him to fourth in rushing yards on the club and a 6.9-per average when he scrambles.
I've quit pretending that Atlanta can produce a consistent pass rush, as Abe is at least playing like he's past his prime (if he isn't) and Kroy Biermann can't be put in on every down for the liability he presents in the ground game. But I tell you what, I'll take my chances with Freeman's 51-percent completion rate.
Dude has questionable accuracy even when not pressured.
It won't help that both Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow are a little shook up. Then again, against a secondary that let Eli Manning throw for over 380 yards last week (and more telling, let four different guys rack up more than 60 yards receiving, including Mario Manningham's 126), you don't really need health.
Just a pulse might be enough against the inconsistent Brent Grimes. I beg you, pray tell: How do you look so good one second only to suck the next?
Overall, you know I'm giving us the edge, though. Not even we can make a 61.1 passer rating across the Buccaneer QB corps look elite.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Tampa Bay Pass Defense
At least you didn't throw a pick last week, Matty Ice. I might really have cried had you managed that. Please let this be a sign of good things to come.
Though, of course, as I say that, it's time to dig back up something I mentioned at the outset - the Tampa-Green Bay game. It was in that contest that the strength of the Bay secondary came out, and Aaron Rodgers threw three picks. Returns of 35 or more yards (including one for six) did the Packers in.
And so, all the more important to keep the ball on the ground. Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson will be all too happy to wrestle us from the warm embrace of victory.
Still, don't be fooled by the unit's 13th-overall rating, or at least not entirely. See a group that's given up the third-most passing TD in the league and allows the fourth-most yards per pass attempt for what they really are: prone to the big play.
The occasional big play is all we'll need as long as the ground game does what it should be able to do. Now you see why I was stressing the run attack.
I was hoping for more Tony Gonzalez last week, and I got it; maybe they'll listen again as I request that he gets a break here. We'll need Roddy White down the sideline for the now-and-again bomb to keep the Buc defense honest, but Gonzo should take a breather while the mid-range game is handled by the tailbacks.
Good for us that four of our last six are at home, where Ryan seems not just comfortable, but All-Pro. How he got so harried against the Panthers a fortnight ago I'm trying not to think about; instead, I'm picturing a confidence-boosting crushing of Tampa's defensive backfield.
Prediction : Falcons 34, Buccaneers 13
The Giants game was a heartbreaker for us. I won't get into how we could have won had Jason Elam been a bit more accurate, though I will thank administration for exploring Brandon Coutu as an option.
We shouldn't be worried, especially now that we're back in friendly confines, but it's important to keep in mind that our destiny is "in our hands." Winning out is a long shot, but getting five of the remaining six would certainly help.
Tripping over Tampa, either today or in a few weeks, would spell certain doom. We must use this as a week to get our minds right and learn as much as possible about the Bucs so that we can earn a rare road win in late December.