G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
Coming off a huge victory against the Packers, the Falcons now enter their three game road stretch with a testing but winnable match against the Tmapa Bay Buccaneers. According to the media, we only scraped past the Bucs last time, but I feel that we had that game in control far more than the score shows. It’s a different story away from the Dome, and matches in Ray Jay are always tough, but we did beat the Bucs for 9-7 last year in Raymond James Stadium and we are definitely the superior team (at least on paper). A win here sets us up nicely for a good road stretch, and if we can go 3-0 on the road it’s hard to see us losing the top seed in the NFC. The best case scenario this week comes if we execute on special teams, stop Freeman scrambling and generate inside pressure.
Execute on special teams: Last time we played the Bucs, Morgan Spurlock took a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and returned another 66 yards to get the Bucs inside field goal range at the start of their drive. Our special teams has been a huge factor in our recent wins, with Eric Weems playing the role of lean, mean returning machine and also laying some hits (last kickoff to the Ravens and the Packers anyone?). Weems also leads the team in special teams tackles, and the addition of Kroy Biermann and Stephen Nicholas to our kickoff coverage unit has really improved our special teams. I believe that 14 of Tampa Bay’s 21 points were scored as a result of special teams, and without a TD and long return for the Bucs we may have seen a 28-7 result. The two teams haven’t changed much since the last meeting (even though the Falcons are playing better and more complete games now), so I think the special teams battle will be huge. If we can minimise any damage Spurlock can do to us, as well as have Weems continuing his excellent form, our defense has a great shot at generating some turnovers.
Stop Freeman scrambling: Aaron Rodgers ran all over us last week and, as Dave has said many times, if Josh Freeman took notes we might be in for a long day. I think this is where we should utilise Mike Peterson, as his pass coverage skills are clearly the worst of the Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas linebacker corps. At 6-6, 248 pounds, Freeman is a big guy, but Peterson is a big hitter, and I know who I’d take in a collision. Drop Peterson out of coverage on passing plays, or even have him playing zone a few yards back from the line of scrimmage, and have him ready to pursue Freeman if the big guy takes off. If we can stop Freeman scrambling and force him to stay in the pocket, we not only have a better chance of making defensive plays but also of getting a couple sacks notched against an injured Tampa O-line. Not to take away anything from Freeman’s greatly improved skills as a QB, but his receiving group isn’t the most threatening corps we’ve faced this year and, although we got torched against the Packers through the air, we should be able to clamp down on any poorly thrown balls and come away with at least one pick. Keeping him inside the pocket is a must this week.
Generate interior pressure: With Tampa Bay starting right guard Davin Joseph out for the game, look for Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Peria Jerry and Vance Walker to really generate a push inside. The Bucs offense starts and stops with the run game, and if they don’t have play action or a rushing game they struggle to air it out. LaGarette Blount is coming into his own but (from what I gather watching the games since our last meeting) he still struggles at pass protecting. Cadillac Williams is Tampa Bay’s better blocking option at RB, but he didn’t practice yesterday and hasn’t really made waves aside from a 45 yarder against the Panthers. The Falcons rank 6th against the run and Babineaux is being his usual beastly self against the run. However, inside pressure has been lacking against the pass, evident several times against the Packers when our tackles were forced outside to open huge holes for Rodgers to scramble through. John Abraham and Kroy Biermann have been great rushing from the edges, (even if his stats don’t back it up, Biermann’s been getting there a few times a game) and if we can complement some end pressure with some inside pressure we will not only limit Freeman’s scrambling options but really force mistakes out of the young quarterback. Interior pressure will force them to abandon the run and thus shut out their offense, which can only help our secondary.
10-2 seasons don’t happen often for the Falcons, so let’s see if we can make a big push for one this week. Although the game is on the road, I feel we have the edge and should come away with a win in excess of one touchdown (which would be nice for once; I’m getting pretty sick of having to have defibrillators on hand each Sunday). If Ryan, Turner, Gonzalez and White keep up their effort, with a reliable Jenkins and 3rd down converting monster Jason Snelling also doing what they do, it’s hard to see an injured Bucs defense cause us too much trouble (aside from that crafty Talib/Barber combo). I predict a 31-21 victory for our Falcons, so let’s see how that goes. Finally, be sure to check out dunlagh’s Worst Case Scenario post here. Go Falcons!