I’m back. I know I sort of retired this thing but the Bucs game was too tempting to not look at, so here goes…
Initial Assumptions, Prior Bias and Basic analysis
The Bucs have a good run game, good run defense, an explosive passing offense and a generous pass defense. Also, Josh Freeman is a Giant who terrifies poor Baby Breesus.
Bucs Defense Vs Falcons Offense
There’s really not much to say here. The Bucs allow a meager 3.41 YPC (yards per carry) on the ground (Best on NFL) while allowing 65.2% of the thrown at them passes to be completed for 8.17 YPA (yards per attempt) – those are elite QB numbers. In addition, they rank 30th in adjusted sack rate and 24th in 3rd down percentage. Therefore, my totally obvious recommendation is … Bombs away Matt. I will add two caveats though.
- The Bucs defenders are good at catching errant passes. Therefore, accuracy is important. Also, avoid the middle of the field, and target the Corners.
- The Bucs pass rush has shown signs of life recently. While the ends are maturing into pretty good players I’m not worried about them. The concern is stopping Gerald McCoy and A-gap blitzes from their LBs. As long as that is contained expect the good guys to put up 30 points.
A note about the Bucs run defense: While the front 7 has been dominant, they’ve been pretty average once a RB gets to the second level and beyond. Translation, this game would be perfect for heavier usage of Jacquizz Rodgers.
Bucs Offense Vs Falcons Defense
This is the more interesting matchup and frankly one that terrifies me a little bit. The one adjective used to describe the Bucs offense is explosive and frankly there isn’t a more apt objective because the crux of the productivity of this offense comes from big plays. The Bucs offense leads the league in 40+ yard run plays (4) and pass plays (12). It is also tied for 5th in 20+yard run plays (10) and 8th in 20+ yard pass plays (34). This explosiveness is built on a foundation of a solid ground game chewing up the yards at 4.7 YPC and 128.9 yards/game behind a top 10 run blocking offensive line. Compound this with the Falcons struggles in run defense and you understand why this would terrify me.
There are a few things going for the Falcons though.
- The Return of Sean Weatherspoon: While, the Bucs offensive line is good it isn’t a monstrosity like the Niners, Vikes or Seahawks. Therefore, Martin gets a lot of his yards after contact by running through and past second level defenders. If the three tackle look and the return of Spoon helps limit the big runs and contain Martin to less than 125 yards, they can survive the game.
- The Falcons ability to score early and make the Bucs play from behind. The Falcons need to start first and build a lead forcing more weight on Freeman’s shoulders. Freeman has played well this season averaging 7.85 YPA and a passer rating of 94.63. However, a lot of success is built of play action and the defense getting sucked in by the threat of the running game and he hasn't been tested in the short and intermediate passing game. His completion percentage adjusted to receiver drops is 2nd worst in the NFL (his non adjusted completion percentage is 3rd worst) and his accuracy in general has been wanting. So the Falcons gameplan should be clear: take the lead and force Freeman to engineer long drives with short to intermediate throws by sitting in a deep zone.
Interesting Statistical Battle
Who wins the battle of the clutch QBs? Freeman, in his 4th year, has nine 4th Quarter comebacks. Matt Ryan had 11 in his first 4 years. Ryan can stop Freeman’s bid to take down his record while adding to his own record in this game; because if nothing else this game is going to be close.
Moral of the Story
If you’re not worried about this game you really should be – it’s a division game and the Bucs are a dangerous team. That said I expect the Falcons to take the early lead and play from ahead. I also expect the Bucs to comeback and turn this into a shootout. Falcons by 3 on $$ Bryant’s game ending FG.
I think the Saints are going to beat the Niners and I'm not entirely unhappy about that.
Stats used in this article are from ESPN.com and NFL.com unless explicitly stated otherwise.