Week two has come and gone, and now it’s time to move on. This Thursday night, the Buccaneers have a huge challenge and a huge opportunity against the division rival Atlanta Falcons. After the Bucs started 0-2 in heartbreaking fashion, going on the road to defeat the Falcons looks like a bigger and bigger mountain to climb. Fortunately, the first two weeks have told us just as much about the Falcons as they have about our own Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In week one, Matt Ryan danced to the tune of 448 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Falcon’s overtime victory against the Saints seemed to plant them firmly in the running for the NFC South Championship, but it also exposed their defense. The Falcons gave up 472 yards of total offense, only forced one turnover, and never sacked Drew Brees. It was enough to hang on against New Orleans, but they didn’t get the luxury of a transparent defense in week two.
The Cincinnati Bengals shut down the Falcons on the ground by only allowing 97 yards rushing, and Matt Ryan’s 231 yards and one touchdown were overshadowed by his three second half interceptions. Ryan’s yardage may not seem low at first, but it’s pitiful when you realize he actually threw one more pass (44 attempts) in this game than against New Orleans in week one (43 attempts).
With the Falcons offense neutralized, a constant push by Giovanni Bernard in the rushing game and two explosive plays by wide receiver Mohamed Sanu — a 50 yard pass and a 76 yard touchdown reception — helped seal the Bengals victory. The Bengals and the Saints have essentially provided the Buccaneers with a blueprint on how to handle the 2014 Atlanta Falcons.
With injuries to Adrian Clayborn, Michael Johnson, and Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald is the only remaining member of the defensive front four from the beginning of the Buccaneers season. McDonald will have to lead his men right out of the gate, because putting pressure on Matt Ryan will be critical in keeping their offense from waltzing all over us on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the defense can’t allow Ryan to complete every pass he makes. The loss of Mason Foster will be tough, but Lavonte David should rally the troops. When the pressure is on Matt Ryan, the defense has to capitalize. Every time that Matt Ryan isn’t sacked, the defense should be looking to force a turnover. Our battered and bruised defense might struggle, so the offense has to ready to deliver.
Coach Lovie has been extremely conservative in his campaign for mistake-free football. The Buccaneers only committed seven total penalties in weeks one and two, compared to the Falcons 17 penalties in the same amount of games. Unfortunately, a lack of penalties won’t win us the game. The Falcons committed 10 against the Saints and still emerged victorious.
Josh McCown has looked much better with a real offensive line, and his comfort level needs to hold in this game. Bobby Rainey ran the ball right down St. Louis’ throat. He’ll need to do the exact same thing against the Atlanta Falcons. If Doug Martin actually plays and doesn’t deliver early, Rainey needs to go in as soon as possible. Rainey has been more explosive as a runner than Martin or Mike James have had a prayer of being this season.
The Buccaneers aren’t quite in “must-win” territory, but going down two division games this early will make a recovery much harder. A win against the Falcons would bring an NFC South Championship much closer to Tampa’s grasp. Jeff Tedford needs to start pulling out some of those things Josh was talking about in preseason that he’s “never seen before,” and the Buccaneers need to capitalize on Thursday Night Football. This game may come with heart attacks, but it should end in a Buccaneers win!
Prediction: 30-27, Bucs win
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