Like the offense, it was a tale of two defensive units last week in Minneapolis. The Bucs defense couldn’t stop the Vikings from scoring 17 unanswered points in the first half, letting Adrian Peterson run and Donovan McNabb find receivers. Even Stanford alum Toby Gerhart ran amuck on the Bucs.
But the second half saw Tampa Bay only allow three points to the Vikings and even saw them sack the quarterback for the first time all year. And they have to be commended for their ability to ‘stop’ Peterson. Despite allowing the $100 million man to go for 120 yards, they never once allowed Peterson to bust out one of his patented big yardage runs. Every time his dipped, juked or jived, the Bucs always seemed to get his hip, knee or ankle just in the nic-of-time.
This success must be improved upon against Michael Turner, who isn’t as explosive as Peterson, but can do just as much damage. Allowing 120 yards to running back isn’t always going to be acceptable. The reason Tampa was able to beat Minnesota despite the high run total was the Vikings inability to pass the ball downfield.
Matt Ryan does not have that problem.
If 120 yards is allowed to Turner, Ryan will use that field position to hit one of his big three targets: Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez or rookie Julio Jones.
White will draw coverage from Talib (as usual) and it will be another great matchup to watch. Gonzalez is dangerous, but isn’t always consistent in his production. He may have peaked last week and may not put up those numbers again for a few more.
That being said, there no saying he won’t do it again. That’s the problem with defending the Falcons; they have so many ways to kill you. The phrase “Pick your poison” is an accurate representation of their scheme.
Julio Jones is the wild card in all this. They Falcons sold the farm to get him in the Draft and he has yet to pay off. He was drafted to be a compliment to White and the thinking is both will (and sometimes already do) draw double coverage opening up the field for either Turner or Gonzalez. Atlanta’s week one performance in Chicago was a fluke, I’ll say it. Week 2 was more of an idea of what they can look like but they’re not even close to the oiled machine they can be and that’s the scary part.
The D-Line will have to neutralize Turner as a threat. This will the put the Falcons receiver in the tough spot of having to produce in predictable scenarios. They’re not good enough to get away with it al the time, but they are (and seem to always do it) against the Bucs. We saw it last year pre-Julio Jones, now with him added to the mix it makes an already dangerous offense for the Bucs to defend even more deadly. If Matt Ryan has time in the pocket, he will hit his receivers.
If Matthew Stafford and (to an extent) Donovan McNabb could do it, have no doubts about Ryan’s ability to do it. He’s twice the quarterback both of those guys currently are.
This has to be the week the Bucs pass rush steps up. It was what killed them last season and it’s what is letting teams run away with games this season. Adrian Clayborn was drafted to do this and must step it up this week and put pressure on Ryan, make him force throws that either go incomplete or into the hands of Aqib Talib. This is the first big-time test for the Bucs to see how for real they are. If the defense gets torched, it’s going to be a big blow to the momentum last week built and to the season’s overall theme of out-doing last season.
The Bottom Line
This week is and is not what I thought it would be when I saw it on the schedule. I figured the Bucs and Falcons would be evenly matched when they met, however I had them both a 2-0 and as high powered teams. Both have stuttered out of the gates and are trying to recoup. This isn’t a must win for either team as both can easily get back to .500 next week. It is highly staked game of divisional position though and the Bucs haven’t the history of shining in these games. That being said, they’ve never been blown out by the Falcons since Josh Freeman took over and this rivalry is one that will always be a tight one. Tampa can’t fall behind like they did against the Vikings; Hotlanta won’t let them back into the game the way Minnesota did. It’s going to be tight, but a loss by either team won’t cripple their season, just make passing the other in the standings a little harder. I want Tampa to win, I just don’t see them getting over the hump this meeting. I see them finally overcoming the Falcons in their second meeting in the Georgia Dome where the Bucs have more on the line and show they have what it takes to represent the NFC South in the playoffs.
Then again, don’t count out the power of what Josh Freeman can do to this team.
Prediction: Falcons 34, Bucs 24