Once opponents get inside the 20-yard line, keeping them out of the end zone has been a struggle for Tampa Bay this season.
Teams have put up six points on 75 percent of those red zone trips through six games and things don’t get any easier Sunday in Atlanta.
The Falcons rank fifth in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring 17 touchdowns on 25 attempts for a success rate of 68.0 percent. Tampa Bay’s 18 touchdowns allowed on 24 trips ranks it last in the league.
“That is, for sure, one of the things we have to get corrected,” Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said this week. “We are seeing it week in and week out if we get in the red zone. We were not very good in the red zone and we haven’t been for a while this season.
“A lot of it has to do with our defending inside-breaking routes. We have to do a better job, for sure, in defending that route. We are going to see it this weekend if Atlanta gets in the red zone and we need to have an answer. We’ve gone over the tape and we’re going to go over it again in practice. Hopefully we’ll play a little better when we line up this Sunday.”
Primary responsibilities for Bucs defenders in these red zone situations Sunday will be running back Devonta Freeman and receiver Julio Jones. Of the Falcons’ 20 overall touchdowns, 15 have been produced by this duo. Jones has caught five touchdowns in six career games against the Bucs and Frazier spoke about the challenges of reining in the dynamic two-time Pro Bowler.
“He’s one of those rare athletes in our game who has the size, the strength, the speed, the athleticism,” Frazier said. “He’s got the whole package and he presents a challenge every week for any opposing defense and it won’t be any different this week. We have to find a way to slow him down. We think we have a pretty good plan, but so have other people yet he has 58 catches in seven games. We’ve got our work cut out for us. He’s an outstanding football player, outstanding wide receiver and we have to figure out a way to slow him down.”
Bucs defensive backs and linebackers have failed to get the job done this season when facing a short field with their backs against the wall. This was glaringly apparent last week in Washington when the Redskins got in the end zone on all four of their trips to the red zone. The Bucs were unable to converge on tight end Jordan Reed’s game-winning quick slant and looked lost and out of position on another score that went to receiver Ryan Grant in the third quarter.
According to Frazier, it’s a matter of players executing the defense properly more so than guys getting lost in the moment or being unaware of what to do after the snap.
“I don’t think there is confusion just in looking at the tape and talking with our players,” Frazier said. “Is our execution what we want? Obviously not, but I don’t think it’s because of confusion.”