Playing in the NFC South division means that the Buccaneers’ defense faces a tough challenge six times a year – they have to stop very good quarterbacks.
This week, the Bucs will host one of the best quarterbacks in the league on one of the best teams in the league for the first of two meetings this season.
Stopping Matt Ryan will be a main focus on the defense Sunday, something that defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan says poses a lot of challenges because Ryan is a dangerous player because of his confidence in his ability to make impossible throws possible.
“The most dangerous, I would say, probably because he has the ability to throw the ball into coverage and he still gets it in there,” Sheridan said. “He does not get spooked out of trying to put the ball on the spot even if you might think you have it pretty well covered. He is very confident in his arm strength.
Then in addition to that they never shy away from just throwing the ball down the field. No matter what coverage you are in. You can take your corner and run him straight back when the ball is snapped. That does not scare them from throwing the ball down the field because they think their guys can just go up there and get it and they do.”
Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers has been familiar with the Falcons’ signal caller for some time, and like Sheridan, believes Ryan is dangerous and getting pressure on the former Boston College QB is the key to containing him.
“Matt’s a great guy, he’s smart,” Bowers said. “I’ve had a lot of run-ins with Matt, him being an ACC guy. But you know he’s very, very smart and very, very, very good at what he does. He’s going to put the team in the best position and make the best play to win. So we just have to get pressure on him and try to get him to the ground. Try to make them one dimensional and try to make him throw the ball as much as possible.”
Sheridan’s game plan this week will focus on getting pressure on Ryan, but the Bucs will have to be smart about it.
“I think you try to attack him from a couple different angles,” Sheridan said. “Even just from your regular four-man rush. Even though he is maybe not like a Cam (Newton) who is going to scramble and run for first downs, he is capable. He is more that capable of moving around and keeping the play alive.
“I think it is important for us to just really have good lane discipline and try to fill up all the passing lanes and get into his face because he is a guy that if you give him any kind of a step up lane it is like playing seven-on-seven and we certainly can’t afford to do that because he is outstanding.”
Last week against Arizona, Ryan through an uncharacteristic five interceptions. According to Sheridan, not all of the picks were bad throws or decisions from watching the tape and the defensive coordinator didn’t see anything different from Ryan himself.
“Not necessarily,” Sheridan said, “I think half of them - as a lot of them are, I don’t want to call them flukes, but they are tipped passes. Or maybe a guy breaking off from maybe a route short where maybe Matt (Ryan) thought he was going to throw it. That kind of stuff. They were not all poor decisions on his part or really clever coverage schemes. Like I said, some of them are just really good plays with a defensive player. Maybe he was getting some pressure as he was throwing it. I think one or two of them he was near a receiver getting tipped off a receiver.”
What Bennett noticed from film study was that the Cardinals disrupted Ryan’s timing and were quick to get in the quarterback’s lanes.
“We just have to get our hands up and try to do what the other team (Arizona) did,” Bennett said. “You watch as much film as you can and see what other teams did in the game and that’s we’re trying to work on. I know he has some batted balls so we’re definitely going to get our hands up to bat some passes down as well as try to get the ball out of his hands when he has the ball when we try to rush him.”
Despite Tampa Bay being last in the league against the pass, forcing Ryan to throw is a top priority. Although the Falcons have a terrific runner in Michael Turner, they have become a pass-first team.
“They are passing a little but more,” Bennett said. “Obviously they did everything to get Julio Jones and Roddy White has been leading the NFL in receptions for two years in a row I believe and Tony Gonzalez is Tony Gonzalez. So, it’s good team full of veterans and they make a lot of plays.”
Being first against the run and last against the pass is an unusual stat, one that Bowers acknowledged as such, but the second-year defensive end said it will always come down to winning football games.
“Definitely, but we just try to make each games one dimensional,” Bowers said. “It’s our job to get better at each position each week. Being No. 1 in the run, or dead last in the pass – it’s all about trying to get the victory.”
With the best record in the league at 9-1, Atlanta has found ways to win regardless of the situation. It is being said in the media that a victory against the Falcons would give the Bucs more credibility, but Bennett says the Bucs aren’t concerned with that.
“You don’t get any respect until you get to the playoffs,” Bennett said, “So we’re just trying to do whatever we can to win every game. We’re not too worried about getting respect from anybody else. We just want to go out there and play our game so that’s all we’re trying to do – play Buc football.
“It will just be another win for us. Then there will be a next game and then we play another game after that. We just go one game at a time; we don’t think past the team that we’re playing. So, we beat them and then play our next team – that’s how we are.”
Beating the NFC South and NFL leaders would mark one of the biggest wins of the season put them just two games back from the Falcons in the playoff hunt.
Although the postseason is six weeks away and the Bucs view every opponent one season at a time, they already feel confident heading into Sunday’s matchup. One of the aspects the Bucs are showing the most confidence in is their defense.
“Look for it to be a very defensive game,” Bennett said. “I’m expecting for the defensive line to step up, as well as the secondary, as well as the linebackers – we all want to step up in a game like this. We have a lot of opportunities to go out there and prove our worth and they have a great offensive line with some of the best tackles and guards in the NFL. So, it’s going to be a good game.”
Much like most of the 2012 season, the Bucs will have to face a very good quarterback this week. When asked if the team feels like they will catch a break this year from the talented QBs they are facing each and every week, DT Gerald McCoy made light of the answer.
“Catch a break because we don’t have to play No. 5,” McCoy said. “In practice we have to face him but yeah, this division is insane but I love it. I have fun with it.”
The third-year defensive tackle may have given his answer with a smile, but there is some truth behind it. In the NFC South, Josh Freeman is playing as good if not better than some of the division rivals. Atlanta will have their hands full trying to game plan to stop the Bucs’ talented, very good quarterback as well.