Over the past two weeks, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had a career-high in passing yards and interceptions.
He passed for 411 yards against New Orleans and followed that performance by throwing five interceptions against Arizona.
“You have to be able to put them behind you in the right way and not let them take away from what you want to do as you move forward,” Ryan said of the five picks.
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What do you make of Tampa Bay’s defense that is first against the run and last against the pass?
A: I think statistics like that sometimes jump out at you, but they’ve played with a lead in a lot of different games, and teams have been forced to throw the ball against them. I think that’s part of it. They are very good against the run. They are very stout.
Q: How does Ronde Barber look at free safety?
A: He looks solid. Ronde is an extremely smart player. He probably knows his defense as well as anybody in the NFL. He’s done a great job. He’s a very good pattern reader. He’s very good at reading quarterback’s eyes and anticipating things coming from the offense. I think he’s been a good fit for them.
Q: How are their young linebackers, Lavonte David and Mason Foster, looking?
A: Their linebackers do a great job in the run game. They blitz hard. They are good, solid tacklers, and they shed blocks very well when they are pass rushing.
With the next to last pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Doug Martin.
Cleveland took running back Trent Richardson with the third pick in the draft. Martin, who went 31st overall, was the second running back selected, and the Bucs have been happy with the pick.
Martin, who played at Boise State, rushed for 138 yards and had four catches for 23 yards in Tampa Bay’s 27-21 overtime win at Carolina on Sunday. He will be the X-factor when the Falcons face the Bucs at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
He is rushing at a rookie-record pace.
Martin has 1,019 yards from scrimmage over his past six games and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (1,066) and Edgerrin James (1,045) as the only rookies in NFL history to gain at least 1,000 yards in a six-game span.
“He’s running it extremely well,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “He’s a very good back. He reminds me a lot of (Ray) Rice at Baltimore. He’s very comparable.”
At 5-foot-9, 223 pounds, Martin is a squatty back with speed. He also has been effective catching passes.
“He does a great job out of the backfield (catching passes) and does a great job in the backfield (running the football),” Nolan said. “He breaks a lot of tackles. He’s sturdy. He’s strong. He’s tough. He runs hard. He’s a very good back. We’re all very impressed with him.”
Martin has scored seven rushing touchdowns.
“It’s two backs that they base out of, but he comes out of the backfield and catches some check downs as well,” Nolan said. “He has 27 catches on the season. When he gets out in space, he’s a very good runner. He’s got really good speed. He outruns a lot of people.”
The Falcons’ run defense will be on the hot seat against Tampa Bay’s rushing attack.
In eight of 10 games, they have given up a run of at least 29 yards. Overall, they have given up six runs of 40 yards or more, most in the NFL.
Last week, Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling broke loose for runs of 40 and 52 yards through a maze of missed alignments and missed tackles.
When runs get to the second level, the safeties are not finishing off the play. Thomas DeCoud had missed tackles on Chris Ivory in the New Orleans game and on Stephens-Howling.
“Everybody gives up 5-yard and 10-yard gains,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “But when you’re missing two and three tackles at 10 yards, then they keep going. That’s a concern.”
The coaches are growing tired of seeing the same mistakes.
“It’s just something that we’ll continue to work on,” Nolan said. “It’s midseason, and it hasn’t gone away yet. We just have to keep going.”
Also, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has been out, and the Falcons have used Akeem Dent, who’s essentially a rookie.
“He’s continually gotten better and is doing a nice job,” Nolan said. “That’s really the key. You don’t want to see a guy drop off, which he has not.”
The Falcons would like to see better tackling and may get a boost from the return of Weatherspoon.
“They don’t always come through clean all of the time,” Nolan said. “Sometimes we miss some plays in the backfield, and that’s concerning. But then when they get on the second level, part of the secondary guy’s job is, he’s got to be a good tackler.”
The Falcons and the Bucs basically switched kicking specialists a few years back.
The Falcons signed kicker Matt Bryant, a former Buc, and punter Michael Koenen left the Falcons to sign a lucrative free-agent contract with the Bucs.
Bryant played for the Bucs from 2005-08. Koenen spent six seasons with the Falcons from 2005-10.
Other connections include:
While Tampa Bay ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run (81.8 yards per game), the Bucs rank 32nd (last) against the pass.
Their defense gives up 312.6 passing yards per game.
The Falcons’ offense ranks in the top 10 in points (27, sixth), total offense (382.1 yards per game, seventh), passing yards (292.9 per game, third) and possession average (31:50 per game, fifth).
“With their pass defense, stats can be deceiving,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Your stats can sometimes make you look better than you actually are. Sometimes worse than you are.”
The Bucs have juggled their personnel. They traded Aqib Talib, formerly their top cornerback, to New England.
“They had to rotate a lot of different guys through their secondary,” Koetter said. “They definitely have been playing their best football the last three weeks.”
The mainstay in the secondary has been the great Ronde Barber, who shifted from cornerback to free safety.
“He’s made a nice transition,” Koetter said. “He’s still a playmaker, whether he’s playing at the free safety or when they move him down to the dime spot. He’s still a good blitzer. He’s still a good tackler. He still has a nose for the ball. He’s their Tony Gonzalez. He’s an ageless guy that always plays at a high level.”
The Bucs have 15 interceptions, which ranks third in the league. Barber and Leonard Johnson lead the team with three each.