Bucs-Falcons Preview

The Bucs and Falcons square off today in Atlanta for first place in the NFC South.
The Bucs and Falcons square off today in Atlanta for first place in the NFC South. /
The Bucs and Falcons square off today in Atlanta.
The Bucs and Falcons square off today in Atlanta. /

Well Sunday has finally arrived and the much anticipated matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons will take place this afternoon at the Georgiadome. The Falcons come into this game having already established themselves as one of the true contenders in the NFC. The Bucs on the other hand are looking to prove themselves and back the words of their fiery young coach.

The NFC South may lack the longevity and level of rivalry inherent in some of the older, more historical divisions, but this Falcons-Bucs rivalry is quickly gaining a lot of traction and steam. These two teams do not like one another and they’ve been trash-talking all week. Toss in the fact that first place is at stake and this becomes arguably the game of the day in the NFL.

This one is going to be an uphill struggle for the Buccaneers today. They come into this game with a talented young team, but make no mistakes about it they’re out-matched. The Falcons have a balanced offensive attack, a very solid defense and the benefit of experience under their belts. The Falcons have won and sustained winning, as silly as learning to win sounds it’s important in the NFL if you want to have any semblance of consistency. The Bucs will need to play a near perfect game in order to pull one out in Atlanta, it’s doable but they’re going to need to really play smart and take advantage of every chance they get. Let’s get into it…

Stopping Michael Turner should be the Bucs biggest priority.
Stopping Michael Turner should be the Bucs biggest priority. /

Falcons Offense vs. Bucs Defense

This is going to be the phase of the game that the Bucs will find themselves at the greatest disadvantage. Tampa has not had any success stopping the run and the Falcons will bring a top-five rushing attack with two quality backs into this game. The Falcons running game is typically personified by Michael Turner, who is an absolutely fantastic back. You can not like the Falcons but you have to admit Turner can bring it. As much credit as Turner deserves though, one of the more underrated elements of the Falcons running game is the caliber of their line and the quality of their depth along the line. Even when Turner isn’t in, an unheralded back like Jason Snelling can still go for over 100 running behind that crew.

That’s going to be doubly difficult for the Bucs today. For starters, they’re going to need to really commit to stopping the run because they can expect a heavy dose of it from the outset. But even when they do manage to get the Falcons into obvious passing situations, the Bucs struggle to rush the quarterback as well and as I just mentioned, this is a very good line. In order for Tampa Bay to have a shot at this game, someone along the line is going to need to really step up and start making some plays. This would be a really great game for Gerald McCoy to have a big coming out party for instance. Someone or several players will really need to step up in the front seven for the Bucs to win.

The secondary is also going to need to be at its best. Because of the threat of the run, the Bucs will need to trust their secondary to lock down the passing game, which is hardly an easy feat. Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez combine to create a very formidable passing attack and there’s not necessarily going to be a ton of help. If the secondary can shut down the passing game and Tampa can just contain the run, the Bucs will have a good shot. But again, much easier said than done. Look for the Falcons to try and build an early lead and then control the clock and grind down the Bucs defense. Hopefully fatigue won’t become a factor, but if the Bucs offense can’t get anything started and the time of possession battle sways too far towards Atlanta, you could see the front seven really begin to wear down and then it’s going to be over.

The Falcons have the clear-cut advantage here, it’s going to take the Bucs playing at a higher level than they have all year to come out on top of this one. If they could force a few turnovers, something this team has done extremely well so far this season, it could swing things in the other direction. But if the Falcons can keep from making too many mistakes and the Bucs are unable to force any, it will take one incredible performance to come out on top in this phase of the game.

The Bucs must maintain offensive balance.
The Bucs must maintain offensive balance. /

Bucs Offense vs. Falcons Defense

This part of the game will be a lot closer. The Falcons can shut down the run as well as anyone in the NFL and the Bucs are only beginning to run the ball with any efficiency. On paper that’s never a good mix. Still, it’s incredibly important that the Bucs keep trying to push the issue and get yards on the ground, even if only to keep the Falcons honest. LeGarrette Blount has an excellent opportunity to show the Bucs once and for all that he’s the feature back if he can carry the ball effectively against this good of a run defense.

Unfortunately for Blount it still doesn’t look like he’ll have the benefit of running behind the Bucs best configuration along the offensive line for a few more weeks. Jeremy Trueblood will probably miss his second straight game, Jeff Faine is still on the shelf and the Bucs will be utilizing rookie Ted Larsen at guard while Jeremy Zuttah shifts inside to help out in Faine’s absence. Still, if the Bucs make-shift line can handle itself like it did last week against the Cardinals and Blount runs well again, the Bucs might be able to do well enough for themselves. That’s not that likely, but as I said, it’s still important the Bucs try.

This game is going to be won through the air for Tampa Bay though. Dunta Robinson returns this week after nearly killing himself and DeSean Jackson a couple weeks ago in Philly. The Falcons need him back desperately too, they’ve surrendered over 700 passing yards in their past two games. For the Bucs Josh Freeman will need to limit mistakes first and foremost, but Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow will need to be on their games too. No dropped passes, no routes getting cut off short of the first down marker. If the Bucs young offense can put it together, they can move the ball and score. But they will need to maintain balance, avoid mistakes and stay patient to do it. That’s a tall order for a group that has started slowly in practically every game this season. The Bucs can’t afford to wait a quarter or two for their offense to gain any momentum.


This one could turn ugly for the Bucs if they don’t watch out. They have the potential to take this game, but they’re playing a much more experienced team and they are out-classed. Anything can happen in this league, but there’s a reason the Vegas oddsmakers have the Falcons comfortably favored and the “experts” are almost unanimously picking the dirty birds. If the Bucs can keep it close into the 4th, not make mistakes and not dramatically lose the time of possession battle they will have a shot. But I wouldn’t be completely honest if I told you I feel good about that shot.

So, sadly.

Falcons 27 Bucs 21