No one expected the Atlanta Falcons to go into their first of two NFC South games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers desperate for a win, but that’s exactly the position they find themselves in right now.
At 1-4, the Falcons have little margin for error from now until the end of the regular season. Facing the winless Bucs (0-5) could help the cause, but the Falcons can’t afford to take any opponent lightly, particularly after losing top receiver Julio Jones for the season.
Falcons team reporter Vaughn McClure and Buccaneers team reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.
McClure: Pat, I caught a few glimpses of Sunday's game against the Eagles and saw the Buccaneers make quarterback Nick Foles, in his seventh NFL start, look like a seasoned veteran. I was especially surprised to see Darrelle Revis, one of the top cornerbacks in the league, trailing on a few plays. Is the defensive scheme just not suited to Revis’ strengths as a lockdown, one-on-one defender?
Yasinskas: Vaughn, Revis did get beat more than once. But I don't necessarily put the blame on him. I think coach Greg Schiano is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by sometimes playing Revis in a zone defense. Revis should be on the other team's top receiver in one-on-one coverage all game. The Bucs are wasting his talent by using him in a zone defense. Speaking of top receivers, what do the Falcons have in the passing game now that Julio Jones is out and Roddy White has been banged up all season?
McClure: The natural solution would be to go to tight end Tony Gonzalez more often. He has been outstanding against double coverage and even been mauled by a host of defenders near the goal line. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter made it clear that Gonzalez instantly becomes Matt Ryan’s No. 1 option without Jones in the lineup. But the Falcons also expect more out of slot receiver Harry Douglas.
What the Falcons will miss, if White is sidelined by a hamstring injury, is that vertical threat on the outside. Unproven receivers Kevin Cone and Drew Davis might get a chance to fill in outside, and the Falcons are trying to get newly signed veteran Brian Robiskie -- the son of receivers coach Terry Robiskie -- up to speed quickly as an outside receiver. Speaking of getting up to speed, how is rookie quarterback Mike Glennon coming along?
Yasinskas: Glennon made some obvious progress from his first start to his second. He was fairly accurate and even showed some mobility, a trait he supposedly was lacking. Still, this is all new to Glennon and I think the Bucs are trying to be careful not to put too much on him. They'd like to take the pressure off by running Doug Martin constantly, but opposing defenses have been slowing Martin by playing eight or nine men in the box.
The next step for Glennon is to keep defenses honest with more downfield passing. Rookie tight end Tim Wright came on strong in the Eagles game and Glennon seems to be developing strong chemistry with Vincent Jackson. No. 2 receiver Mike Williams should be back after missing the past game with a hamstring injury. That gives the Bucs a pretty strong receiving corps. I know the Falcons, aside from Asante Samuel, are young at cornerback. Can the young corners hold up against Tampa Bay's receivers?
McClure: Actually, I think first-round pick Desmond Trufant has held his own through the first five games. Naturally, there is always room for improvement with a rookie. But he’s not the primary issue. Neither is second-round pick Robert Alford, a corner now expected to move into the role of primary punt returner. The bigger issue for the Falcons is how the defense has performed as a whole, particularly on third down.
The Falcons have surrendered too many big plays and failed to generate pressure up front in game-winning drives by both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The players believe in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's system, but they have to play the system better. A slew of injuries at linebacker hasn't helped the cause. The defensive woes and offensive red zone struggles have made the Falcons look like an average team. So, Pat, do you regret picking Atlanta to win the Super Bowl?
Yasinskas: It sure looks like I was way off base in picking the Falcons to win the Super Bowl. I picked them because I thought they were loaded on the offensive side of the ball and had enough talent to be pretty good on the defense. But the injuries have taken a toll on both sides and I'm shocked that the Falcons are sitting there at 1-4. I guess it's the curse of winning the NFC South, which the Falcons did last year. No team has ever won the division in back-to-back years and it sure looks like that trend will continue this season. I think we can pencil in the Saints as the division champion.