Tomorrow night an interesting rematch will take please when the Atlanta Falcons pay a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a Thursday night NFL match up.
This will be their 47th regular-season meeting and the Bucs lead series, 24-22. They’ve also won each of the past three meetings, which included this year’s season opener that the Bucs won 31-24 at the Georgia Dome. They won the last meeting in Tampa too last December, 23-19.
This year when Tampa Bay opened the season with the win over Atlanta, head coach Dirk Koetter’s career seemed like to get off to a promising, especially against a team he and his defensive coordinator, Mike Smith coached together.
So as the rematch approaches tomorrow night at Raymond James Stadium, so much has changed for the two teams, as the Buccaneers find themselves without many players as they’ll try to stop a Falcons’ offense that has become one of the NFL’s best. In the two months since Week 1, the Bucs are 2-4 while the Falcons are 5-2.
Why such opposite paths? It because of their quarterbacks. That’s not really a revelation since in recent years media talk about how the NFL is now a passing league but without many high level passers.
Both Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan are high first-round picks for Tampa Bay. Both players had a lot of success early on but both have struggled as well. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Winston is going through a sophomore slump, which included a four-pick game against the Cardinals in Week 2. In a three-game stretch, they had three touchdowns against seven interceptions, and they two lost fumbles, and because of it they went 0-3.
After that stretch, coach Koetter told media that he was “very” worried about Winston, but also reiterated that things could be much worse.
“He’s not regressing, but we’ve got to take care of the football,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got to take care of the football. We can’t turn it over three times in a half. We just can’t do that.”
Though Winston has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, the inconsistencies remain.
But that’s how it usually goes with young quarterbacks, even with the very talented ones, they all have to go through growing pains. If Ryan is taken as an example, a player who helped the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons, saw his game lose its mojo and fizzle from 2013-2015. So the question will be, which QB can get the magic back?
Last weekend, the Bucs’ defense couldn’t get it together against Oakland QB Derek Carr, who ended up passing for a club-record 513 yards and four touchdowns, as the Raiders won on the road in overtime.
So this week, Falcons Ryan will be the guest QB who they’ll have to stop, who just recorded his 34th come-from-back victory last week against the mighty Green Bay Packers. H threw a game-winning touchdown pass with 31 seconds left for that win. If you look at stats alone, he is having his best season, having completed 193 of 279 passes for 2,636 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating is 115.8, which is second best in the NFL, only behind Tom Brady’s 133.9 mark.
But Winston does have three wins over the Falcons nevetheless. Atlanta will want to cover him better and get a tighter pass rush against him. They had three sacks against the Packers, the Falcons have 18 sacks in the last eight games, and are tied for 11th in the league. They are basically one sack off their total sacks of 19 from last year, which was the worst in the league.
Falcons DE Vic Beasley got a sacked Green Bay’s QB Aaron Rodgers. He’s third in the league with 7.5 sacks. Falcons DT Adrian Clayborn had two sacks also, which pumped his total up to 3.5 on the season. Winston got sacked 16 times so that’s a big vulnerability for the Bucs.
In Week 1, the Falcons didn’t get a sack at all, but they did have six quarterback hits. So Winston will have to be careful. The Bucs are not to be easily dismissed since they managed to take the visiting Raiders into overtime. They did appear disjointed on offense against a team with a so-so defense in Oakland, so they’ll have to clean that up. It will be hard to match the offense of the Falcons, whose QB leads the NFL with 2,636 passing yards. He’ll want to pad those numbers on Thursday night and it’s unlikely the Bucs will be able to stop him.