Thursday Night Football:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Preview and Prediction

 

Thursday Night Football
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)
8:25 pm ET, September 18, 2014
Georgia Dome, Atlanta GA
Airs on CBS and NFL Network
Falcons favored by 6

 

Atlanta Defense versus Tampa Bay Offense

After two games the Falcons rank last in yardage (472 per game), 27th in points allowed (27.0), 26th in rushing yardage (154.5), 29th in passing yards (318) and are last in yards per pass attempt (9.0). As bad as the Atlanta defense has been, the Tampa Bay offense has been just as inept. They are averaging 298 yards per game (28th), 15.5 points per game (27th), 169 passing yards per game (31st), 6.5 yards per pass (22nd), and are one of five NFL teams with more interceptions than touchdown passes.

Last week QB Josh McCown completed nine of his first ten passes, but that one misfire was an interception on a poor decision on first and goal at the Rams’ two-yard line. For the rest of the game head coach Lovie Smith was over conservative, not throwing a single pass in the red zone; McCown threw just six passes after the first drive of the second half. Given Smith’s pedigree – he’s actually even more conservative than mentor Tony Dungy – expect the Bucs to run, run, and then run some more. In three career games against the Falcons, RB Doug Martin has rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Martin missed last week’s game and underwhelmed in week one – though much of that can be attributed to a strong Carolina defense and an in-transition Bucs’ offensive line. Tampa area fans are already calling for his backup, Bobby Rainey, to take over as the starter. Last week Rainey rushed for 144 yards (6.6 ypc) and three touchdowns; in his only career matchup against Atlanta last season, he ran for a career-high 163 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay Defense versus Atlanta Offense

Lovie Smith’s zone defense counts on pressure from the front four getting the opposing quarterback off his point, but their best player, DT Gerald McCoy, will likely miss this game with a hand injury sustained last week. MLB Mason Foster is also out, leaving them a bit vulnerable up the middle; former Patriot Dane Fletcher will get the start in Foster’s place. With McCoy out the Bucs will need to get pressure from the edge, but one starting DE (Adrian Clayborn) was placed on IR six days ago and the other (Michael Johnson) has been slowed down with an ankle injury. Johnson will be facing rookie LT Jake Matthews, an interesting matchup worth keeping your eye on.

With the Bucs injuries noted above, Matt Ryan should have the time he needs to plant his feet and step up and make passes the way he did in week one when he went 31-43 for 448 yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks against the Saints. If the Bucs decide to bring extra pressure Ryan will carve them up with his quick release and football smarts. Roddy White is questionable with a hamstring injury, but that still leaves Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester at wide receiver. In two games against the Bucs last year Douglas had 13 receptions on 16 targets, for 283 yards and two touchdowns. I am expecting plenty of three and four wide sets if White is available to play; Douglas and Hester will create huge mismatches against the Tampa Bay defense.

Special Teams

The Bucs had a short field goal blocked as well as a punt blocked last week. That’s tough for any team to overcome, and much more so when the club is as conservative in their play calling as Lovie Smith is.

Injuries

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DL Da’Quan Bowers – Abdomen – Full Participant – Probable
C Evan Dietrich-Smith – Back – Limited Participant – Probable
T Demar Dotson – Hamstring – Full Participant – Probable
LB Mason Foster – Shoulder – Did Not Participate – Out
DE William Gholston – Shoulder – Full Participant – Probable
DE Michael Johnson – Ankle – Limited Participant – Questionable
G Logan Mankins – Knee – Limited Participant – Probable
RB Doug Martin – Knee – Limited Participate – Questionable
DT Gerald McCoy – Hand – Did Not Participate – Questionable
CB Bradley McDougald – Knee – Full Participant – Probable
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Ankle – Did Not Participate – Out

Atlanta Falcons
WR Julio Jones – Ankle – Full Participant – Probable
T Jake Matthews – Ankle – Full Participant – Probable
LB Prince Shembo – Knee – Full Participant – Probable
WR Roddy White – Hamstring – Did Not Participate – Questionable

Prediction

While two games is certainly not a large enough sample size to reach any conclusions, it should be noted that on Thursday nights thus far this season the home team is 2-0 straight up, 2-0 against the spread, and have covered by an average of 16½ points. That is not good news for the Bucs, who could be looking at an 0-3 start with three losses in-conference and an 0-2 division record. If the Bucs could not get a win in two home games against backup quarterbacks, how realistic is it to expect to get a victory on the road against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense?

Pick • Falcons 28, Bucs 20
Falcons +6 (one unit)
Over 44½ (one unit)

 

 

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