Falcons need to stop Jackson, big plays

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons should have learned their lesson the first time around in terms of defending Vincent Jackson.

During a 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7, the Falcons allowed the Buccaneers receiver to catch 10 passes for 138 yards with two touchdowns. Jackson was targeted 22 times in the game and would have had 200-plus yards had it not been for a handful of drops.

Almost half of Jackson’s yards came on one play: a 59-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter when Jackson got behind Asante Samuel on a deep post route. Samuel still had a chance to make a play but got turned around and didn’t see the ball.

"That was inexcusable by us," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

The Falcons can’t afford such slipups this time around, or else the 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Jackson will have his way. Jackson has been limited in practice this week with a knee injury, but there has been no indication of him sitting out Sunday’s game. Plus, Tampa Bay just played Monday night, so it makes sense for veterans to get some rest.

Containing Jackson all comes back to the theme of giving up explosive plays. The Falcons have surrendered 14 plays of 40-plus yards this season, including three last week in a 33-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. In that game, Nolan said the defense yielded 12 explosive plays total.

"And what we consider an explosive is a 10-yard run, and the league goes by 20," Nolan explained. "They had two, 10-yarders and a couple of 13s as well. And 20 [yards] is pass, not 10. We weren’t good, by any stretch."

One would anticipate the Buccaneers and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to try an attack through the air based on the status of their offense. The Bucs lost their top running backs -- Doug Martin and Mike James -- to season-ending injuries. Those two combined for 92 rushing yards on 25 carries in the first meeting between the teams.

Although veteran Brian Leonard (6-foot-1, 225) is a converted fullback capable of carrying the load, the Buccaneers would be wise to test the Falcons’ secondary through the air more than anything.

Jackson ranks among the NFL’s top 20 receivers with 662 receiving yards on 46 catches.

"He’s a great football player," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said of Jackson. "He’s a big guy who can run. They target him a lot. They give him a lot of chances to make plays on the ball and get the ball in his hands. He has the ability and the talent to hurt a team."

Explosive plays have already hurt the 2-7 Falcons enough.