The Dirty Birds are the defending division champs and let's not forget about the New Orleans Saints, who are momentarily perched atop the South with a 2-1 record. The 2009 Super Bowl Champs will still be in first place by the end of Week 3 action, but they'll have some company as both the Falcons and Bucs are 1-1 coming into their tilt in Tampa.
So the two teams are jostling for those modest bragging rights.
More importantly, with Drew Brees and company looking sharp to start the 2011-12 campaign, it seems the margins in the south will be razor-thin. In other words, any head-to-head collision takes on an additional dimension of import, a fact about which both Atlanta and Tampa Bay are keenly aware.
Needless to say, everyone is under a microscope and that includes the coaches.
With that in mind, here are five adjustments the Atlanta Falcons must make at halftime in order to open up some breathing room in the sloppy, wet Florida conditions:
1. No More Turnovers
OK, so this isn't rocket science—let's just say I'm easing you into my football genius.
Tampa has looked even worse than Atlanta on offense so the Falcons should be comfortable playing it safe. Furthermore, it's wet so you gotta know defenders will be hatcheting at the ball with extra intensity. In other words—and I'm lookin' at you, Mr. Ryan—protect that ball at all costs.
Even if it means sacrificing short-term gains or attempts.
The way this game is going, the Bucs won't be able to keep up without the benefit of extra possessions.
2. Improve Ragged Special Teams Play
The first few appearances by Atlanta's special teams in nominal irony as their play was only "special" in the politically incorrect sense.
Falcons were flying all over the play, banging into each other, getting pushed by ball carrier and generally looking like a reckless, out-of-control mess. Things tightened up a bit as the half wore on and the special teams enjoyed the benefit of a few Tampa penalties, but there's still room to grow.
Again, with the conditions being what they are, the kamikazes would be wise to ease off the throttle and trade speed for control to maintain the integrity of coverage schemes. It might mean a few extra yards at the front of the return, but the savings will be worth it if it means no big plays.
3. Run, Run and Run Some More
Matt Ryan is good, but all the moisture seems to be making the ball too slick for even one of the top quarterbacks in the League.
And Atlanta does have a nifty little rainy-day insurance policy in Michael Turner.
The bowling ball of a running back makes perfect sense on a slick track since he doesn't overly rely on quick, precise cuts to get his yardage. If Ryan continues to struggle with the wet ball, just hand it to Turner and let him enjoy the muck between the tackles.
4. No More Slow-Developing Nonsense
The Bucs are really flying around the field when you consider the slop on which both teams are playing and they're doing so without ignoring their defensive responsibilities. On a first-quarter reverse attempt to Julio Jones, Ronde Barber and the rest of the Tampa defense wasn't fooled even a bit. The result was an ugly and unnecessary loss.
With a good offensive line and a rugged running back, Atlanta has the personnel to go straight at the Bucs and then use the passing game to gash the D for big gainers.
So why not use it?
5. Keep Going to the Roddy White Well
This pains me to say because White is the fantasy opposition for me this week, but he's the one guy making Ryan look good...or at least passable. He's one of the best wide receivers in the game and he's obviously not struggling like a lot of the offensive options so use him.
White's big frame and soft hands have created a margin for error that Ryan's needed in the early going. It'll still be there in the second half and Roddy is always a threat to break one if his QB delivers it perfectly.
As the conditions seem to be clearing up, the threat of that happening only increases.
Which is bad news for Tampa and great news for Atlanta.