Scouting the Enemy: Falcons

The Falcons will be a difficult test for the Buccaneers.
The Falcons will be a difficult test for the Buccaneers. /
The Falcons will be a difficult test for the Bucs.
The Falcons will be a difficult test for the Bucs. /

On Sunday at one o’clock in the Georgiadome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will square off against the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South. Already both teams have squabbled back and forth providing plenty of bulletin board material for the other. On Sunday, none of the talk matters anymore, all that will matter is what happens on the field.

The knock on the Bucs is that they have yet to beat a good team. Despite being 5-2, the Bucs have already suffered two embarrassing blow out losses at the hands of the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers. To compound that even more, both losses came at home. Fortunately though, for the Bucs, they happen to be undefeated this season on the road and look to continue that streak against the Falcons in Atlanta.

Atlanta did not take kindly to the notion presented by Bucs head coach Raheem Morris that his Buccaneers team was the best in the NFC. Already players like Mike Peterson, Roddy White and practically the Falcons entire fanbase have come out disputing, mocking and disagreeing in any other way they know how. On Sunday it will all come to a head in Atlanta.

Falcons Offense

The Falcons have one of the best running backs in the business in Michael Turner, they also happen to have one of the best lines in the business as was evidenced when Jason Snelling came from no where and destroyed the Cardinals in week two. Currently the Falcons rank 5th in the league in rushing, averaging over 135 yards on the ground per game.

This is obviously going to be a big problem for the Buccaneers defense as they have struggled against the run all season. Look for the Falcons to pound Michael Turner and Jason Snelling into the middle of an inconsistent Bucs front seven and try to win the time of possession battle as well as keep themselves in second and third-and-manageable. The Falcons have the capability to dictate the tempo of the game with their rushing attack and they could really put the Bucs in a bad situation with the rushing attack if the Bucs offense gets off to a slow start.

They also have a quality quarterback in Atlanta. Matt Ryan, despite being one of the more reviled Falcons, has proven to be a good NFL starter. If the Falcons running game can keep him in manageable passing situations, he has plenty of options to go to. Tony Gonzalez continues to produce at an elite level in Atlanta and despite being an insufferable loud-mouth, Roddy White is developing into a very good receiver.

The Falcons have a very balanced offense, they rank no lower than 11th in any major offensive category and can attack you in any way they like in order to move the ball and keep a defense off-balance. Agaisnt the Bucs, a team with a solid secondary but questions against the run, look for Atlanta to try and exploit the front seven in order to open things up in the secondary.

Mike Peterson leads a stout Falcons run defense.
Mike Peterson leads a stout Falcons run defense. /

Falcons Defense

The Falcons defense is very good against the run, ranking 6th in the NFL allowing just under 96 yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for a Buccaneers team that only recently began to find any rhythm running the ball. Still, it’s going to be important that the Bucs stick with the run throughout the day so that the Falcons have to respect the threat. The Falcons have been absolutely miserable, just awful against the pass this season. They’re going to try and help their coverage as often as possible, the Bucs will need to keep them honest in order to help Josh Freeman have a big day.

If you want to attack the Falcons, it’s best to do it through the air. They rank 27th against the pass this season. In the last two games Atlanta has surrendered 412 yards in their last game to Carson Palmer and Kevin Kolb ripped them for 326 before that. In fact the last time Josh Freeman visited Atlanta he had a 118.5 quarterback rating, throwing for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions.

Still, Atlanta does not surrender many points, on the year they rank 10th in scoring defense giving up just 19 points per game. The Bucs are going to need to take advantage of their redzone opportunities and maintain balance to overcome this Falcons defense, it’s doable. Teams have certainly had some success this season, but the Falcons tend to bend and not break and field goals don’t win football games in the NFL. If the Bucs want to prove themselves to be the best in the NFC, they need to score touchdowns on Sunday.

Player to Watch

Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons

Currently, Harry Douglas finds himself in a dog-house of sorts. He’s relegated to the role of third receiver on a team that rarely features three-receiver sets. After coming on strong a couple of years ago, Douglas suffered an injury last year and has been inconsistent since returning, dropping passes and making mental errors on the way to losing the faith of his quarterback. However, Douglas has a very high ceiling, he’s immensely talented and chances are he’s hungry right now. That makes for a dangerous receiver, hopefully I’m way off-base, but if the Bucs don’t pay attention to Douglas he has the potential to really hurt them. He’s certainly looking for a chance to make a big play and redeem himself. He also happens to be the brother of former Seminole PG Toney Douglas who dropped 30 on the Bulls last night for the Knicks.