The Buccaneers find themselves in a very interesting predicament this Sunday as they travel to Atlanta. They either follow up the epic choke job in Washington with another loss and completely demolish any hope of recovery in 2015, or they do what they showed they could do in the first 30 minutes against Washington and take the next step towards positivity.
Many Bucs fans are leaning more towards option “A”. I’m one of them.
Atlanta is a team that, on paper, is not that much better than Tampa Bay in terms of talent. In fact, they may not even be as talented as the Bucs. And, they’ve been struggling offensively over the last three weeks. In Atlanta’s last three games, they beat Washington in overtime (at home mind you), lost in New Orleans (where Tampa got their first win this season), and defeated the Titans in Tennessee 10-7. Matt Ryan over those last three weeks is averaging 266.7 yards, one touchdown, 1.3 interceptions, and a 61.06% completion percentage per game. On the flip side, over Winston’s last three games, he’s averaging 264.3 yards, 1.67 touchdowns, 1.3 interceptions (but hasn’t thrown any in back to back games), and a 67.1% completion percentage.
But no one is saying Winston is the problem. In fact, the offense has looked pretty darn good recently between Winston making smarter decisions and the running duo of Doug Martin and Charles Sims. However, the Bucs are still heading into the Georgia Dome and I fully expect the Falcons to use this game to get their offense back on track and clicking again. Why?
Because of this defense. Period.
People, fans and media alike, went on and on heading into the Washington game about the Bucs having a “top-5 defense”. No. No they didn’t. Not even close. And if you’re someone who looks at a stat sheet instead of the actual game going on right in front of you, here are some cold hard facts about this “top-5 defense” that you thought they had;
The Bucs’ defense ranks 31st in the NFL in opposing quarterback passer rating at 111.2. Only Detroit is worse and they give opposing quarterbacks a rating of 111.6. And the Bucs have allowed this against those perennial pro bowlers Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallet, and Marcus Mariota.
The defense is tied for 28th in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed with 15. The last place team? 16 touchdowns allowed.
The defensive rank for interceptions? Tied for 26th with three, yes three, all season long. None, by the way, have been by cornerbacks.
And finally, and most importantly, points per game allowed. The Bucs are in a tie for dead last allowing 29.8 points per game.
Now, what about that says “top-5 defense” to you? You know what it’s saying to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones? Time to feast. Time to get this offense back on track and return to the top of the division. Matt Ryan is going to throw it all day long because he can. There’s no one there to stop it. The corners on this team have no interceptions and only six passes defensed. How in the world are they going to stop Julio Jones?
This team’s best hope of staying competitive and potentially even stealing this game from Atlanta, which make no mistake about it – they can, is to let Winston go toe-to-toe with Matty Ice. To continue utilizing this run game the way they have, allowing Doug Martin to become the third leading rusher in the league. There will be little to no defense in this game, much like all season, so let the offense put up as many points as possible.
And despite Lovie Smith’s “philosophy” at the end of the half, the Buccaneers can not afford to play conservatively. Wasting that possession, not trying to score at the end of the half, could cost them the game in the end. Sound familiar? Even if it is just a field goal, any points are better than running into the locker room at halftime with three timeouts you’ve just thrown away because you were “too afraid to make a mistake”.
Fear gets you nowhere. You drafted Winston to lead this team, let him do it. Is there any time Winston has looked better this season than when he’s running a 2-minute drill? NO. That’s his bread and butter.
Prepare yourselves for the worst, Bucs fans. Just be pleased with any other result.