Those of you who stay up very late may have caught me talking to Jon Chuckery at 92.9 The Game Friday morning about the Falcons. We touched on a lot of points, but I thought Chuckery's best question was about the importance of this game.
Needless to say, I answered it was critically important. A Falcons win brings them up to 2-4, still lousy but giving them a puncher's chance to go on a run, make some tweaks and get back healthy players. A loss in what projects to be the single most favorable matchup of the season—winless, dysfunctional opponent comes to the Georgia Dome—would effectively crush dim playoff hopes and accelerate the soul-searching in the franchise. Roddy White says Mike Smith hasn't lost the team, but the team is going to be pretty dispirited following a loss.
So a win would be huge. If the Falcons can win these four critical matchups, they've got a very good chance.
Falcons Corners vs. Bucs Receivers
It sounds like Mike Williams will play, which means the Bucs' two burners are wide receiver are active and raring to go. As I discussed earlier in the week, the book on Mike Glennon early in his career is that you don't need a huge blitz to beat him. You just need enough of one to force him to get the ball out, with quality coverage to force a mistake or an incomplete pass.
So the coverage will be important. Asante Samuel looks likely to play in this one, with Desmond Trufant operating opposite him and Robert McClain and Robert Alford taking snaps in nickel packages. Jackson and Williams are tough to cover, but the corners have by and large been the least of this team's problems, and I'm confident they can at least make life difficult for these two.
One pick, a couple of batted balls and a few incompletions because of tight coverage might be enough to turn this one, particularly if the offense can make the headway it needs to in the red zone.
Falcons Linebackers vs. Doug Martin
Chances are it won't just be Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow or Akeem Dent lined up against Martin, but some combination of all three. How they fare will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game.
To put it bluntly, the Falcons need to cover the Bucs' receivers and shut down Martin. If they do that, the Bucs are going to be awfully reliant on a middling group of tight ends and some heroics from Glennon to get the win, and I'm not sure they're up to that. Martin has had an average year thus far, but he remains a dangerous player who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Falcons need to recognize that. They'll rotate their linebackers on Martin, but it's fair to say that one should almost always have an eye on Muscle Hamster. Dent and Worrilow are good bets to blow him up in the backfield once or twice, while Bartu remains the obvious choice to shadow him when he's moving out of the backfield, recent coverage struggles notwithstanding.
Shut down Martin and you've gone a long way toward winning this one.
Bucs Pass Rush vs. Falcons O-Line
The Bucs can get after the passer. They have some mighty potent players in the front seven to begin with, plus a secondary that buys the pass rush time to get home. Oh, and the Falcons are down most of their top weapons in the passing game. Have fun!
It's never been more important for the offensive line to buy Ryan some time. Unless the receivers are just going to run short routes all game long, Ryan needs more than a couple of seconds to look downfield, identify the open man and get the ball out. This is especially true because the Bucs are going to throw the kitchen sink at Tony Gonzalez, leaving guys like Harry Douglas and Levine Toilolo to pick up the slack.
It's an uphill battle, and it's tough to be confident that the line is going to suddenly find itself. It's going to make a huge difference if they can play at even a slightly above average level.
Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Lavonte David
You have to set your expectations low for Quizz in this one. The Bucs have a stellar run defense, and he's struggled to find consistent success behind this line. Any success at all would help here.
Rodgers can be dangerous in space, of course, but once he gets there he'll have to watch out for David. The second-year linebacker is one of the league's best linebackers already, and he's absolute poison for running backs without the long speed to get away from him. David will also be after him if he's catching the ball, something he figures to do at least a handful of times Sunday. If he can slip by a couple of times, there may be some big gainers to be had.
It's a tough game, given the matchup issues. But it's a winnable one. Go Falcons.