Surviving a near collapse, the Buccaneers defense held strong in overtime and made three first half takeaways count as they pulled off a 23-20 win in Atlanta. The unit showed poise while backed up inside their own 20-yard line – two red zone turnovers and two forced field goal attempts – and finally got the pressure they needed on Matt Ryan in OT to hang on and get a much needed third victory and second against divisional opponents. Find out how each position group graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
The Buccaneers entered Sunday’s game thin along the defensive line, as Clinton McDonald (pectoral) and Tony McDaniel (groin) were sidelined with injuries, leaving Akeem Spence, who returned from back surgery last Sunday, and Henry Melton to fill the void next to Gerald McCoy. The two interior lineman served as solid compliments against the run, helping to hold Devonta Freeman to 88 yards – ending a three-game streak of 100-plus – while both contributing on a turnover. Spence’s quick first step forced a bad snap that Jacquies Smith recovered in the red zone, and later Melton fell on top of the game’s third fumble, again in the red zone, during the third quarter.
While the D Line came up big a few times in clutch situations – none bigger than Howard Jones’s overtime sack – the Falcons O-Line won the battle for the most part in pass protection. Of course, much of that is credited to Matt Ryan, who was on fire in the second half even in the face of pressure (see third-down completion in the fourth quarter with Howard Jones decking him). But anytime a QB completes 37-of-45 passes, including a streak of 18 for 19, there are surely some issues along the defensive line.
McCoy had trouble shedding a Chris Chester/ Andy Levitre double-team at times, while former first-round pick Jake Matthews fared pretty well against Jac Smith, George Johnson and Howard Jones. That said, the front four made enough splash plays and led the way on numerous down-and-goal stands to ultimately win the game. Highlights included Spence blowing up a pitch to Devonte Freeman on third-and-goal that held Atlanta to a field goal in the fourth quarter, and Melton’s back-to-back tackles against the run before recovering a fumble on the same drive.
Overall, it wasn’t their best effort and they won’t get away with that type of pass rush (or lack thereof) often, but the D Line limited big runs and rose to the occasion on their final stand. GRADE= C
Playing in the most tragic of circumstances after the death of his brother Friday night, Kwon Alexander was the star of the game for Tampa Bay.
Coaches talk about players needing to step up and make a play outside their realm of responsibility and Alexander did just that, starting in the first quarter. After Julio Jones sliced through the defense for another slant, Alexander chased him down 35 yards to steal the ball and set the stage for a four-turnover game. The rookie linebacker was far from finished, though, intercepting a perfectly read pass to Jacob Tamme in the second quarter that set up the Bucs first TD, while recording a team-leading 11 tackles on the afternoon. From screens to Jones (two in the second half), to reading a play-action fake and stoping Tamme for a short gain, to assisting multiple tackles on Freeman, Alexander made his presence felt in his first outing against the division rival.
As for Lavonte David, the weakside linebacker was, as always, fast in open space and a sure-tackler, but had issues at times shedding blocks on inside runs. David made plays to stop underneath routes for short gains, but a couple wrong angles combined with Alexander’s performance made the fourth-year pro’s game take a back seat. David finished Sunday’s game with five tackles.
An overlooked play was Bruce Carter’s tackle on first-and-goal during the Falcons first possession that saved Freeman from going in the end zone and making it 7-0 right off the bat. Thanks to Carter hitting the gap and preventing a easy TD run, the Bucs forced a field goal and won a rare battle in the red zone.
While the linebackers allowed a few too many completions to Tamme – 10 for 103 yards and a TD – it’s hard to blame one unit for the Falcons prolific passing attack Sunday, especially the one that made the biggest splashes. GRADE= B
SECONDARY It was expected that Julio Jones, arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, was going to get his yards, but 162 on 12 catches qualifies as a bit too much.
Mike Jennings had a rough start, getting beat on a slant and deep out-route on the first drive, while Johnthan Banks didn’t fare much better, giving up a few inside passes to Jones and the first reception for Roddy White. Meanwhile, the safeties didn’t offer much help in the passing game, either. At times it was hard to tell who was at fault, as only the Bucs know if it’s part of the scheme for safeties to stay over top or come in close. On Julio Jones game-tying touchdown, for instance, Banks is seen giving up the back of the end zone, but Chris Conte bit on a pump fake when he should’ve stayed back for support. Regardless of their breakdowns, Ryan was extremely efficient throughout the second half and nearly completed the 17-point comeback.
While the backend continues to struggle contesting passes, they were, however, physical once again in the running game. Bradley McDougald, who had eight tackles, made a particularly impressive play in the second quarter when he tackled Tevin Coleman on a pitch and saved a big gain. Chris Conte, for his part, added nine tackles and saved a couple big runs from exploding.
In the nickel spot, Alterraun Verner was there to make a few tackles in the underneath passing game, finishing with five on the afteronnon.
Still, it’s impossible to overlook 37-of-45 completions for 397 yards as an area of concern, even if Atlanta is one of the best passing teams in the league. GRADE= D
SPECIAL TEAMS Takeaway a third quarter 24-yard punt return by dangerous return man Eric Weems and the Bucs played incredibly sound on special teams.
The Falcons always seem to break one off against Tampa Bay, but not this Sunday. Russell Shepard showed why he’s the captain on special teams after an open field tackle on Weems during the fourth quarter, while the unit was quick to stop an overtime return taken out from nine yards deep at the 19-yard line.
As for the kicking game, Connor Barth remains perfect in 2015, hitting field goals from 38, 23 and 31, the latter of which proving to be the game-winner, while Jacob Schum was solid punting the ball. Best of all for the Buccaneers, there was no onside recovery to dwell on. GRADE= A
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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