With strong red zone play and a few key third-down stops, the defense kept the Bucs in the game and sealed the 23-19 victory in the closing minutes. Despite a depleted front four and a couple sudden change drives, the line held strong against the run and had Matt Ryan under duress in critical moments, while linebackers capitalized on splash play opportunities. Read how each defensive position group graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
Plagued by numerous injuries, the defensive line overcame adversity as rotational guys stepped up in critical moments and made enough plays to win the game.
At defensive end, both Howard Jones and Will Gholston turned in respectable performances. Unlike last Sunday in Indianapolis, they were able to collapse the pocket and make Matt Ryan step up on occasion, while Gholston recorded two sacks. His first, a third-and-goal coverage sack, came after he threw Falcons guard Chris Chester to the ground before doing the same to Ryan. And his second one came in the second quarter when he dropped Ryan at his own seven yard line.
Meanwhile, Jones had success on former first-round tackle Jake Matthews, both while getting inside against the run (see final play of the first quarter) and going around the edge against the pass, forcing an overthrow of a wide open Falcons’ receiver in the fourth quarter.
Along the interior front, Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel each contributed in filling the void left by Gerald McCoy (hand). Along with batting down a pass at the line in the second quarter, McDaniel got in Ryan’s face at times and had a tackle-for-loss on Tevin Coleman in the red zone, one that would eventually set up a field goal. Melton, for his part, could be seen blowing up a pitch in the first quarter and assisting Lavonte David’s game-sealing INT with heavy pressure in the fourth quarter.
While Ryan, given enough time, was able to find the gaps in zone coverage a prolong a few drives, the defensive line responded and played better than most expected through four quarters. Above all, the D-Line kept its streak of excellent run defense intact, holding the Atlanta backfield to 64 yards and out of the end zone. GRADE= A
One could make the case that Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have been the best linebacker duo in football over the past month.
Leading the team with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively, Alexander recorded a sack-fumble while David iced the game with a fourth-quarter INT.
Beyond stats, Alexander also showed the awareness to blitz on a second-and-goal play in the second quarter that forced Ryan to throw it away, and later tipped a third-down pass to end the first half. The rookie linebacker responded to his one glaring mistake – whiffing on Jacob Tamme in the red zone – on the next drive, with the defense desperately needing a stand. After Doug Martin fumbled at the 50-yard line with eight minutes left, Alexander made the tackle on second down and blitzed on third down, forcing an overthrow and the game’s biggest three-and-out.
On the same Falcons’ possession, David had a tackle-for-loss to start the drive, his fourth tackle behind the line. The duo also combined to force Matt Ryan’s intentional grounding at the end of the third quarter that left Atlanta punting from the one-yard line.
Danny Lansanah had one tackle, but it was in the red zone, as he read a draw play and stuffed it immediately. GRADE= A
Despite their current free-fall, Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game always has the potential to break out and carve up defenses. While they had their moments on Sunday, that was not the case, as Tampa Bay’s secondary helped to hold Ryan to 30-of-45 for 269 yards.
Sterling Moore was caught out of place a couple times in the early going against Julio Jones, but recovered with a pivotal third-and-goal breakup in the end zone and laid the game’s biggest hit on the elite receiver. Moore was physical once again, finishing with five tackles including a few immediate stops on screen passes.
As for Jude Adjei-Barimah, his name wasn’t called often (generally a good thing for a cornerback), until he went down with an elbow injury in the third quarter, sending Johnthan Banks back into the lineup. The third-year pro, who many believed was benched due to his lack of physicality in zone coverage, stepped in seamlessly and fared pretty well in the second half.
In regards to the safeties, Bradley McDougald’s best moment came when he jarred a ball loose from Jones in the second quarter. He finished with three tackles, mainly serving in run support, while Chris Conte recorded four.
Ryan completed a few deep passes over the middle, but McDougald’s and Conte’s coverage in the red zone shouldn’t go unnoticed. Of the Falcons three trips inside the 20-yard line, twice it resulted in field goals, as the Bucs coverage led to Matt Ryan holding the ball, which led to a sack on the first trip and a blitz-turned-errant throw on the second. GRADE= B
After Donteea Dye missed an opportunity to pin Jacob Schum’s first punt inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line and give the Bucs the early edge in field position, the undrafted rookie responded in the third quarter on kick coverage.
Kicking off to Devin Hester, the NFL’s most dangerous return man of all time, Dye tripped up Lovie Smith’s old friend inside the 20-yard line after Hester took it out from five yards deep. Connor Barth did the rest when it came to limiting Hester, booting it through the end zone on three of his five kickoffs.
Barth was also 1-for-1 on field goals, hitting from 23 yards out to extend the Bucs lead to 16-12 in the thirdquarter.
Schum did his part, too, pinning Atlanta (this time getting the help he needed) inside the 10-yard line in the second quarter.
And in the return game, Bobby Rainey came up big when the Bucs needed the special teams to flip the field. After sacking Ryan at the one-yard line, Atlanta punted deep and nearly got themselves out of a huge jam. But Rainey rewarded the defense’s effort by taking it back 28 yards to the Falcons 34-yard line. GRADE= B
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