The desperate Atlanta Falcons take on the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a battle that will decide who resides in the basement of the NFC South division as the loser will reside in last place.
One of the bright spots for the Bucs this season has been their defense, which has played well despite their inability to win a game. The Falcons will be playing with a depleted offense this week, thanks to injuries to top wideouts in Julio Jones and Roddy White, as well as missing running back Steven Jackson for the fourth consecutive game. The Falcons are forced to dig deep in order to find a way to attack this Buccaneer defense.
How the Bucs decide to deploy their defense could really impact how the Falcons offense operates. The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis has really enhanced a Bucs secondary that was among the worst in the league in 2012. The past two weeks Falcons opponents have opted to bracket and double Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez alongside Jones. Now with Jones out of the mix, it will mean Gonzalez will be the focus of the Falcons offense and opposing defense. The Bucs would be smart to try and have Revis shadow Gonzalez throughout the day whenever possible. But that will require the Bucs to ask to play Revis more inside. While Revis is capable, it will mean that the Bucs will have to make significant adjustments to their defense. If the Bucs choose to do that, a way the Falcons can attack him is by lining Gonzalez up as an inline tight end and trying to run directly at him. In the passing game, the Falcons can try to group their receivers in trips sets and try to create confusion in the Bucs secondary.
If not and the Bucs try a more traditional defense, it will feature a lot of using their safeties, Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, against Gonzalez. The Bucs haven’t faced many top tight ends this year besides Jimmy Graham in Week 2. Graham proceeded to catch 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, leading the Saints receivers. If that is the case, it’s clear that Gonzalez has the ability to exploit that matchup favorably for the Falcons offensive attack.
If Revis is shadowing Gonzalez, then it will leave the Falcons other receivers on islands against the Bucs lesser defensive backs. Starting cornerback Johnthan Banks has had his ups and downs this year as a rookie. But he could match up favorably against a receiver like Harry Douglas, who will be the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Falcons. Douglas isn’t very big, and Banks has good size to be an effective press corner. If the Bucs opt to employ Banks to try and press Douglas on the outside, then it will be hard for sixth-year wideout to get off the line of scrimmage and be effective. The Falcons could mitigate that some by putting Douglas mostly in the slot away from Banks, and against the smaller, less physical Leonard Johnson, the Bucs’ normal slot corner. If Revis is freed up from shadowing Gonzalez, then Douglas will be hard-pressed to get open against one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. The Falcons will try and find ways to feature Douglas with most of the defensive attention going towards Gonzalez. Douglas is at his best on shorter, quicker routes that are designed to get him in space and make us of his speed and explosiveness after the catch. The Falcons may try some screens with Douglas and shallow crossing patterns to try and feature this ability.