Well, this game is certainly turning out to be much different many expected. Sure the Bucs would probably be better, but no one had any idea that they would be the “Best Team in the NFC,” and probably the “Best Team in the Entire NFL” after beating the Arizona Cardinals by 3 points. The fodder and talk should be good this week as Tampa Bay Bucs head coach Raheem Morris proclaimed his team the “Best Team in the NFC” after they beat the St. Louis Rams last week and said that “stats are for losers and only wins matter” or something like that. The Falcon don’t need any extra motivation to win at home, something they’ve done extremely well under Coach Mike Smith and playing a NFC South rival after having a bye week, but I’m sure that the coaching staff may mention once or twice this week. You have to respect the audacity that Morris exudes and if he can back it up than even more so, but the NFL isn’t known for having many coaches that bluster and talk. Maybe Morris will break the trend. Six searing questions as the “Best Team in the History of the NFL Arrives”, er I mean NFC………
The bye week came at a perfect time for the Falcons as their injury and nicked up list continued to grow and grow. Although not having any major injuries, the Falcons were starting to accrue a list of walking wounded. Dunta Robinson was out for the Bengals game after suffering a concussion in his massive collision with Desean Jackson. Rookie Sean Weatherspoon is having a great season and was tied for the team lead in tackles, but suffered a knee sprain in Cleveland. Thomas DeCoud went out of the Bengals game with a minor injury and did not return. Curtis Lofton has been a little slowed the last few games with a knee tweak. Backup tight end Justin Peele won’t be returning, but the others should be ready to go. Even though the Falcons defense has taken their lumps, generally they have improved, become faster and more aggressive, along with definitely creating more turnovers. Will the bye week pay dividends?
Even though head coach Raheem Morris stated that “stats are for losers” when he proclaimed them to be the best in the NFC, it does give a decent snapshot on what the Bucs strengths are and if there are any weaknesses (surely not if you ask Morris). On offense, the Bucs are ranked 23rd in terms of total yards, 18th in passing yards per game, 23rd in passing TDs, 18th in rushing yards per game, and 20th in terms of rushing TDs. Morris is correct in that only wins matter and stats do not, but the Bucs offense is not necessarily unstoppable, at least according to the stats, which are for losers anyway. The Bucs rank 23rd in terms of total yards given up per game (ahead of the Falcons), 31st in run defense, 7th in pass defense, and 24th in points given up per game. Josh Freeman is obviously a very good quarterback that is having an excellent season (8 TDs, 3 INTs) and has run for 176 yards. The Bucs are getting excellent rookie seasons from wide receiver Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. Their pass defense is obviously their strongest point with perennial Pro Bowler Ronde Barber and former 1st round pick Aqib Talib manning the corner spots. Besides their pass defense, nothing really stands out, but wins are the only things that matter.
Have the Falcons fixed their pass defense, which was seeming to progress, but had two poor showings against the Eagles and Bengals (even though they shut them down well in the first half). Dunta Robinson and Sean Weatherspoon were assets in the pass game and maybe that’s what will do it, or just the fact that they played two of the better receiving corps back-to-back. Who knows, but the Falcons can’t concede 300-400 yard passing games each week and expect to win consistently. Has Mularkey finally rid himself of his comas? When Mularkey’s on, then the Falcons are hard to stop, but when Mularkey resorts to the same old predictable and stale play-calling, then the Falcons look anemic. Keep the passing game going. Get Ryan involved early and often with the pass game. Keep taking the deep shots. Run the no-huddle. Use all the offensive weapons afforded. A screen pass here and there wouldn’t kill us either. Maybe some more Gartrell Johnson, Michael Palmer, and Harry Douglas. Also, when the Falcons protect Ryan, he usually has a good day, so let’s hope the Falcons continue giving him the time he needs.
The second year quarterback obviously has a bright future, but he is playing really well as a second year player. He has thrown 8 touchdowns coupled with only 3 interceptions with a very young receiving corps and not a superstar running back. He ranks 15th in terms of QB Rating in the entire NFL, has thrown for 1,500+ yards, has a 60% completion rating, and even has 176 yards rushing. The Falcons made him look like a future Hall of Fame QB last year in the Georgia Dome as a rookie when he torched the Birds for 250 yards passing and 2 TDs. Freeman boasts all of these stats with very young offensive weapons and without a stud running back. So much for the sophomore slump for Freeman. He’s tall and very athletic, similar to Ben Roethlisberger. If the Falcons let him get hot like last year, fans could be in for a long day.
We’ve seen the commercials, we’ve seen the promos at The Dome and on the radio asking the fans to “Rise Up,” so will the Falcons rise up to their own challenge? Not exactly the one that fans expected, but the Bucs are 5-2 and have won the last 5 games on the road. They are a young and talented team that obviously have plenty of confidence in themselves and definitely don’t seem intimidated of anyone (even though they’ve lost two games by more than 20 points), and seem to be winning the close games (3 points over Cardinals and Browns and 1 point over Rams). Although the Falcons did make a statement (especially at the time) against the Saints on the road, they failed miserably when facing their other big test at Philadelphia. It is true that the Bucs are young and not necessarily a powerhouse just yet, they are tied with the Falcons for the NFC lead. Simply no other way to “Rise Up” to a challenge than when the opposing coach claims his team to be “the best team in the NFC,” knowing another NFC South rival lays ahead in only two weeks with the same record.
As several season ticket holders have mentioned, fans were ready, pumped, and in their seats for the Niners and Cardinals, but definitely were slow to fill in for the Bengals game after an embarrassing loss in Philly. The crowd obviously helped the Birds jump out to a huge lead, but then got a little listless and then very antsy as the Bengals erased the Falcons lead. The Georgia Dome doesn’t have the tradition of the Steelers for instance, but can definitely made life for the opposing team very difficult when they’re in the game. To their credit, the fans often pump up the team and try to grab the momentum, but the Falcons play in a few quarters has been hard to scream your hearts out for (first half of Niners game and 3rd quarter of Bengals game). Don’t think the fans will be hurting for this one as this one will likely receive top billing from Fox with the two teams tied for the NFC and NFC South lead. Every NFC South game is huge, but this one is shaping up to be one of the best of the season and the Falcons can use any and all help they can get. Although everyone points to the Ravens game four days later, these NFC South games mean the most in terms of a division title and playoff tiebreakers.
-Are the Bucs “the best team in the NFC”….the NFL…..in all of sports?
-Seriously, respect or disdain Raheem Morris’ comments?
-How big is this game?
-Will the Bye Week provide a big advantage?
-How much have Falcons missed D-Rob and Spoon?
-What are the Bucs strengths and weaknesses?
-Can the Falcons pass on the Bucs good secondary?
-Have the Falcons fixed their issues?
-Your expectations for offense: same old or turned a corner?
-How good is Freeman and can they contain him?
-How big is this game?
-Will the Falcons “Rise Up” to this challenge?
-What’s your take on the crowd so far this year?
-Will The Dome be rocking on Sunday?