Buccaneers vs. Falcons preview


A lot has changed for the Atlanta Falcons since their 56-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September.

In that Thursday night game, they looked like Super Bowl contenders. But the Falcons haven't won since. They've lost five straight and look like a team that's falling apart.

Not much has changed for the Bucs. They're 1-7 and in sole possession of last place in the NFC South. ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas and ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure examine the matchup of two of the league's most disappointing teams:

Yasinskas: Vaughn, I'm sure you could write a book on what's gone wrong with the Falcons. We don't have the space for all of that here. In a quick synopsis, what happened to the Falcons?

McClure: The problems have been across the board, Pat. The coaching hasn't been adequate, as was evident with clock-management issues in the game against Detroit in London, when the Falcons blew a 21-0 lead. The offense hasn't been nearly as explosive as anticipated, with Matt Ryan uncharacteristically more off target than usual and his receivers dropping passes.

The defense can't generate pressure up front, which has allowed opposing quarterbacks to extend plays and come up with big gains, particularly on third down. And a telling stat to me is that the Falcons have been outscored 84-24 in the fourth quarter. They need improvement across the board, and I just don't see much reason for optimism in the second half, save for this game against the Buccaneers.

The Falcons destroyed the Bucs in Week 3. Could we see another blowout or have the Buccaneers made enough strides since then?

Yasinskas: I wouldn't rule out another rout -- though I think the Bucs will at least play Atlanta closer this time. That hunch has more to do with the Falcons' struggles than it does with anything the Bucs have done.

The Bucs seemed to be making strides a few weeks ago. Then they lost big to Baltimore at home. That game was even uglier than the loss to Atlanta. Coach Lovie Smith keeps saying his team is making strides and I tend to agree with him, but Tampa Bay hasn't done enough to win.

I know Atlanta owner Arthur Blank had high expectations and he's not the most patient guy in the world. How hot is coach Mike Smith's seat right now?

McClure: It's scorching hot right now, which is somewhat hard to believe considering the Falcons were 13-3 two years ago and in the NFC Championship Game. But as Blank moves forward with his plans to open a new stadium in 2017, he wants a consistent winner to occupy the building. And the Falcons have been consistently bad the last two seasons.

Smith is known for being a nice guy, and fans would tell you that they're fed up with that approach. And Blank is trying to appeal to the fan base. So it's going to take a dramatic turnaround for Smith to save his job. I don't even think just making the playoffs in a bad NFC South would be enough for him. But I'm sure Smith will continue to approach the job in a professional manner. And I don't see Blank making a move until after the season, unless the Falcons lose big in Tampa.

The Falcons will have to contend with Josh McCown on Sunday, and he struggled in the first matchup between the teams. What is the benefit in going with McCown over Mike Glennon at this stage?

Yasinskas: I don't know that McCown is any better than Glennon. In fact, I think Glennon has done good things and has shown poise behind a bad offensive line. McCown didn't look too good in the first three games of the season. But he was Lovie Smith's hand-picked quarterback and they were together in Chicago. More than anything, though, I think the hope is that going with McCown will provide a spark for an offense that hasn't gotten into rhythm at all this season.

Speaking of quarterbacks, I have always been impressed by how efficient Ryan is -- but that's not the case this year. What has gone wrong?

McClure: First and foremost, you have to look at what has happened along the offensive line. The Falcons lost left tackle Sam Baker to a season-ending injury in the preseason, tackle Lamar Holmes to a season-ending foot injury and starting centers Joe Hawley and Peter Konz to season-ending ACL injuries. So Ryan is playing behind a patchwork offensive line.

Ryan has seen a number of his receivers, including top target Julio Jones, drop catchable passes. But Ryan has made his share of poor throws, including arguably the worst interception of his career, a momentum-changing play against the Lions. After the way he sliced up New Orleans in the season opener, Ryan looked well on his way to a Pro Bowl-type season. But he got humbled along the way, particularly on the road. And Ryan hasn't been able to throw consistently down the field.

Remember, Ryan did find Jones for a long touchdown in the first game between these teams. Will the Bucs' defense be able to put the clamps on Jones, Roddy White and Devin Hester or are there too many defensive holes?

Yasinskas: Tampa Bay's defense ranks No. 31 overall, which is shocking and disappointing when you're talking about a team coached by Lovie Smith. The Falcons certainly have enough talent and speed to cause problems in the passing game. The Tampa 2 defense has taken a lot of criticism with people saying it's outdated. But Smith believes in the scheme and refuses to change.