By Matthew Asher
With a quick turnaround this week, the Falcons and the Bucs won’t have as much time to work on their game plans. However, even with just four days off in between games, there are a few things the Falcons should focus on that will give them a better chance at going 2-1 at the conclusion of Thursday night’s game.
Win on the ground, not through the air
This may seem counterintuitive. Yes, Matt Ryan did just set a franchise record in passing yards two weeks ago. During that game, the Dirty Birds running attack combined to rush 25 times for 123 yards and one touchdown. This kept the Saints defense honest and it allowed Atlanta to win the time of possession battle.
Against Cincinnati, Atlanta ran the ball only 19 times. They picked up 97 yards. On the other side of the field, Cincy ran the ball 45 times totaling 170 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals also won the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 33 minutes while the Falcons held the ball for only 27 minutes.
For the Bucs, they’re currently averaging about 26 minutes of possession time, the fourth lowest possession time in the league. The three teams with less time of possession are the Seahawks, Jaguars and Raiders, respectively. What do all these teams have in common? Currently none of them have a winning record.
Limit Bucs Ground Game
Tampa Bay’s rushing attack is their one strong point on offense. Against Carolina, Tampa picked up 102 yards on 17 attempts for an impressive 6.0 yards per carry. Against St. Louis, the Bucs ran the ball 30 times for 157 yards averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Bobby Rainey did most of the heavy lifting, running for 144 of those yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Josh McCown scored both rushing touchdowns for the Bucs.
So far in both games this season the Falcons have had trouble stopping the run. Atlanta has given up 154.5 yards a game, ranking them at 26th in the league. Most of the trouble comes during Atlanta’s nickel package on defense. The reasoning for this is simple: the Falcons see additional wide receivers on the field and try to counter it with more defensive backs. Of course, fewer linebackers means if the running back breaks the first line of defense, it’s typically more difficult to bring him down in the open field.
Win the Red Zone battle
Tampa Bay had a very rough time in the Red Zone against St. Louis. The Bucs converted just two of their five (40 percent) Red Zone trips. In goal-to-go situations, Tampa converted two of their three (66 percent) chances. Both goal to go touchdowns came by way of McCown’s running. So if all else fails, Atlanta should just remember to keep their eye on McCown for a possible quarterback sneak if the Bucs get near the end zone.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:25 pm ET. #RiseUp
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.