Mother Nature conspired with the home team when she sent heavy rains to the State of Florida.
The sloppy Raymond James Stadium conditions figured to favor the more conservative, defense-oriented Bucs in their crucial, early season contest against the comparably high-flying Dirty Birds. The Florida rain had soaked the turf and that meant a slick ball, which would make life harder on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan than for Josh Freeman (his Tampa counterpart).
Well, so far so good on that front—the water-logged playing surface has slowed Ryan and his mates down.
Unfortunately, it's had the exact same sluggish effect on the Bucs.
Running back LeGarrette Blount hasn't been able to get free while Freeman has, ahem, left a bit to be desired tossing the pigskin.
All is not lost, however, as the teams are locked in an ugly, low-scoring affair that is still up for grabs. If the Buccaneers make these five adjustments at the half, they might just be able to sneak away with the W:
1. Don't Get Greedy
The Bucs had a chance to punch the ball in for seven late in the first half after another Matt Ryan fumble, but managed to moonwalk away from the goal line thanks to penalties and incompetent offense. But instead of doing something dumb to try to get the touchdown, Tampa was content to take the field goal and three points.
And that was the perfect call.
The Bucs' QB is starting to find his stride, the defense is flying around the field and they've got a lead heading into the locker room.
As badly as Tampa Bay looked at times during the opening stanzas, that's no small miracle. So stay in the "take what they give us" mentality because it's been working.
2. Get LeGarrette Blount More Involved
I already mentioned that Blount hasn't been able to get it going in the first half. However, that's not totally fair because he hasn't been given much chance, which is extremely odd because Freeman has looked beyond terrible throwing the pigskin for most of the first 24 minutes.
Tampa head coach Raheem Morris has already expressed regret about losing Blount in the play-calling once this year.
3. No More Dumb Mistakes
Yes, this one is obvious, but it's too obvious to ignore.
Tampa has run out of feet to shoot and there are still two quarters to play. Name the self-inflicted wound and the Bucs have you covered—brutal turnover, unnecessary penalties, poor decisions on special teams and the list goes on.
Those are killers in the best of circumstances, but during a game played on a shallow lake, they're deal-breakers.
4. Get To Your Tight End
Freeman put together a nice scoring drive at the close of the half and a solid completion to tight end Luke Stocker provided the 24-yard spark. That completion seemed to settle Freeman down and create some offensive rhythm.
Tight ends are big, physical targets that can work successfully in little space so, even if the Falcons begin to collapse their coverage as they concern themselves less with the vertical passing game, Stocker should remain an attractive option.
5. If You Must Throw the Ball, For St. Pete's Sake, Make It Short
Conventional wisdom says a wet field favors the offense because the ball carrier dictates direction and pace. On the other hand, the defense must react while negotiating a slippery surface. Given that nugget and the fact that Freeman has looked totally lost when he's taken to the air beyond five or 10 yards, the Bucs would be wise to abandon any sincere down-field attempts and just play the law of averages.
Let their fleet-footed receivers and backs catch the ball in the flats or on shallow patterns and take your chances with marginal gains becoming big plays.
Or hope that Josh Freeman comes out a new man in the second half.