Week 12: Atlanta Falcons At Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QuarterbackThe Falcons will go as far as MVP candidate Matt Ryan can take them. Ryan has been consistent since Week One and he seems to be able to extend plays by buying time with his quick feet and superior instincts. That characteristic has allowed him to lift the Falcons to the top of the NFL heap.Josh Freeman is having fun on the football field and that has allowed him to play with freedom in head coach Greg Schiano’s system. Freeman has size, strength and the ability to get the ball deep downfield. He is hitting the big play and he is also avoiding interceptions. That’s a winning combination.
- OffenseMichael Turner is a power running back who can weaken an opposing defense by delivering a heavy shot with his forearms and shoulders. Roddy White is one of the most dependable receivers in the NFL and he has a great relationship with Ryan. If Julio Jones (ankle) is healthy, he can make game-altering plays.Rookie Doug Martin is a sensational running back who made the NFL take notice when he ran for 251 yards and four TDs in Week Nine vs. the Raiders. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been an excellent addition to the Bucs and he has become Freeman’s favorite receiver. Mike Williams is a solid complementary receiver.
- DefenseThe Falcons come don’t overwhelm you with their statistics, but they know how to make a stand at key moments. Defensive end John Abraham keys the pass rush and he can turn the corner and harass the quarterback. Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) has missed the last three games. Unheralded outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas is a solid tackler and a decent pass defenderThe Bucs play aggressively, but they give up big plays and big yards because the defense is often out of position. Outside linebacker Lavonte David is a big-time hitter who goes sideline-to-sideline to make tackles. Free safety Ronde Barber should be on his last legs, but the 37-year-old is still breaking up passes and making big plays.
- Special TeamsThe Falcons are slightly better than average when it comes to punt and kickoff coverage. Jacquizz Rodgers is a speedster who is a threat to take kickoffs the distance. Placekicker Matt Bryant remains a consistent factor for head coach Mike Smith.The Bucs may have a problem if this game comes down to special teams. They have been beaten badly in both punt and kickoff return differential. Connor Barth is just an ordinary placekicker while Michael Koenen does not have the kind of leg strength that most coaches want from their punter.
The Falcons have an edge in all four categories, but those advantages are not by huge amounts. A win over the Falcons at home would help make Schiano’s season and the Bucs will come with their best effort. The game will likely come down to one or defensive stands that the Falcons can make and they should come away with the win.