The Atlanta Falcons offense isn’t in a favorable matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense on this weekend’s Week 7 NFC South divisional matchup. Thus the Falcons may need their defense to step up and tip the scales in their favor.
The Falcons defense has struggled throughout this year, largely because their pass defense has given up a bunch of yards, big plays, and created very little turnovers. That will need to change this week, as the Falcons may need some turnovers to give their limited offense extra opportunities to score.
The Bucs top wideout is Vincent Jackson, and they will line him up all over their offense to create mismaches. He’s been effective in the slot, where he will draw the assignment of Robert McClain, who has struggled this year. If McClain is going to turn around his season and retain his spot in the lineup, he will need to bounce back this week.
The Falcons will also need Desmond Trufant and Asante Samuel to play well on the outside, and potentially create a couple of turnovers as well. Mike Williams is expected to work his way back into the lineup this week, and will likely get a lot of looks against Trufant, testing the rookie cornerback.
But the Bucs offense is heavily reliant on their rushing attack. The focus of the Falcons defense this week will be on stopping Doug Martin. They will get help in the form of guard Carl Nicks’ absence due to an infection in his foot. That will likely put Gabe Carimi or Ted Larsen as the starting left guard. Carimi is a good run blocker, but a questionable pass protector. Larsen is a more natural center, and lacks the strength to get push in the ground attack. The Falcons defensive tackles in Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux will try to exploit that weakness, regardless of who gets the start. Right guard Davin Joseph also hasn’t had the best season either, and thus the Falcons will need to control the line of scrimmage.
That will take pressure off the Falcons linebackers to have to make plays. The defense should get a boost from the return of middle linebacker Akeem Dent. While Dent has struggled in coverage this year, he’s been effective agains the run. That could make a difference, giving the Falcons the front necessary to slow down Martin.
If they are effective at slowing down Martin, it will allow the Falcons defense to focus on rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. This will mark the Falcons second-consecutive game against a rookie quarterback. But Jets passer Geno Smith had no problem picking apart the Falcons defense. This week, the Falcons defense cannot afford to repeat that performance. They will need to get more pressure on Glennon than they did Smith a week ago. That could force the young quarterback into some early mistakes that put the Bucs behind the eight ball. If they get in a hole, the likelihood that Tampa Bay runs the ball is lessened, and thus the Falcons defense will be aided in their attempts to slow down Martin.
The Falcons are going to need interior pressure from their tackles, but also much greater edge pressure from ends like Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi. Too often in recent weeks, the Falcons haven’t been able to rely on their front-four to get pressure. That has led to them dialing up the blitz, which has been very effective at times. But it leaves their secondary on islands and leaves the potential open for more big plays allowed in the passing game. But it’s a risk the Falcons might be forced to take as the aggressiveness of the Falcons defense has been lessened with many of the injuries they’ve suffered over the weeks. With an extra week to prepare, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might be able to throw out some new wrinkles and catch the Bucs offense off-balance early.
The positive for the Falcons defense is that the Bucs offense has been fairly conservative, not asking Glennon to do too much and push the ball downfield. That should help the Falcons defense, as they won’t be as susceptible to giving up big plays. The Falcons defense is going to have to play much better than they have in recent weeks in order for Atlanta to win this game. They need to dial up more pressure, and they need to be less prone to mistakes. They also need to force the opposing offensive into mistakes. The Falcons defense has been injury-depleted this season, and thus that has been a convenient excuse for many of their struggles. But now, the offense has also been ravaged by injuries, particularly this week, and thus the Falcons defense is going to have to step up in order to alleviate those issues. If the Falcons are going to turn around their season and avoid falling to last place within the NFC South, they are going to need their defense to reverse its fortunes and start to play well.