By Matthew Asher
After escaping Raymond James Stadium in Week 12 with a 24-23 win, the Atlanta Falcons now hope to prevent the Bucs from returning the favor as this Week 17 matchup returns to the Georgia Dome. While the game doesn’t have any playoff implications, the Falcons are hoping to prevent the Bucs from doing something they haven’t done since the Mike Smith era began: beat the Falcons at home.
Since Mike Smith and Matt Ryan became Falcons, Atlanta is 4-0 against Tampa Bay inside the confines of the Georgia Dome. The Week 15 matchup back in 2008 ended with a 13-10 win for the Falcons. If Atlanta defeats the Bucs on Sunday, the five-game home winning streak will be the new record for consecutive home team victories by either team in franchise history.
Since the Week 12 matchup, not much has changed as far as statistics go. Atlanta still has a top-five scoring offense and score-preventing defense. With Tampa having the worst passing defense in the league, Matt Ryan and company should be able to tee off on the Bucs secondary. The question is, will they or will they try to work on other facets of the game to prepare for the Playoffs?
The biggest question for the Falcons this week is how much play time their starters are going to get. While you don’t want to risk injuries to players, this is also a great time to tune-up whatever issues the team currently has. In that regards, fans should expect a heavy dose of the one thing Atlanta
While Mike Smith may rest the starters for the second half, one thing Atlanta had done so poorly over the season: running the ball. This means that Michael Turner, who has constantly been underachieving throughout the season,
Yesterday the Falcons website published an article about keeping Turner fresh. The article claims that because of Atlanta switching to a more pass-heavy offense and also using second-string running back Jacquizz Rodgers is the reason Turner’s production has been limited. While arguments could easily be made that the reason Turner hasn’t been getting the ball as often is because he hasn’t performed well, the fact remains that this will be the first time as a Falcon that Turner will have fewer than 300 rushing attempts in the regular season.
“I’m fresher now than I’ve ever been before at this point in the season,” Turner said when asked about his lighter workload. “I feel good.” This may be a put up or shut up time for Turner. Now that he’s admitted that he’s doing better this late in the season, he needs to start producing. This will be tough since Tampa still has the best rush defense in the league.
Tampa allows less than 84 rushing yards each game and Atlanta’s offense, the 12th worst, gets less than 89 yards on the ground. Turner needs to put up at least 90 yards by himself to show that he is still capable of being the starting running back, otherwise, the Falcons may be looking at Quizz to carry the load of running duties in the Playoffs.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.