What can we expect from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris? Will Calvin Ridley be able to carry the weight of Julio Jones? How will the Falcons stack up against a Todd Bowles defense?
Every week, Sports Illustrated's AllBucs.com will be joined by the Buccaneers opponent's corresponding beat reporter to preview the game. With playoff implications on the line, we're joined by Aaron Freeman, Host of Locked on Falcons to preview Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta!
1) The Falcons are entering a "rebuilding year" as Raheem Morris became the interim head coach this season after Dan Quinn was let go. He's the former Head coach for the Buccaneers, what can Bucs fans can expect to see from him on Sunday?
Aaron Freeman: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons respond to these last couple of weeks. They haven’t quite played the style of football that they’ve wanted to play. Defensively is where Morris' specialty is, and since he’s taken over, Atlanta has been a lot more aggressive with their blitzes.
It wasn’t as effective last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Falcons are going to want to try to get after Tom Brady by throwing blitzes at him to try and confuse him. Given Brady’s history, well see if that’s particularly affective especially when you compare it to going up to rookie quarterbacks the past two weeks. In regards to Raheem Morris, I think the Falcons will play with a lot of energy and be aggressive on defense.
2) The Falcons have shown improvements on the defensive side of the ball, but offense hasn't been up par. Matt Ryan threw three interceptions against the Chargers but the game was still close. As someone who covers this team, what changes are you hoping to see from them?
AF: Matt Ryan made some uncharacteristic mistakes in the second half of that Chargers game. I think if they eliminated that, they would have won the game. Their offense hasn’t necessarily been what they’ve grown accustomed to having over the years. The health status of Julio Jones will matter. What makes the Falcons offense potent is when they have both Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, sort of a “Pick your poison”. If Jones is healthy this week, I think the Falcons can get back on track.
3) I want to know your thoughts on Calvin Ridley. Not having Julio Jones is a huge loss, but Ridley has really stepped up big time this year.
AF: We’ve known the day was coming where Ridley would be the team’s number one wide receiver. This year, in large part to injuries to Jones, he’s had to take that responsibility on.
For the most part, he’s responded very well. His performance hasn’t had the "trickle down" effect you'd want with the rest of the playmakers, but he has done more than what he’s been asked to do. He’s definitely in the conversation to be a first-time Pro-Bowler and he will be on my ballot when I submit it this week. Ridley is one of the few consistent and reliable bright spots on the Falcons offense this season.
4) What do you think will be the most difficult part about going up against this Bucs defense with Todd Bowles?
AF: Based on how Atlanta performed against the Bucs last year, it seems like that front was too tough to block. Shaq Barrett really dominated those games and they had no answer for him. It seems that the front is even better this season.
If the Falcons can keep that front from dominating in the way they did last year, it gives their offense a chance to exploit that young secondary. If there’s a major shift in the Falcons offense, whether that be Ridley or the offensive line that has had some mistakes (they gave up eight sacks to the Saints), maybe something could happen. If the Bucs' defense comes to play as it has, it could be really difficult for the Falcons to find ways to overcome those issues.
5) The Falcons are out of the playoff picture with nothing to lose. What are your predictions for this game on Sunday?
AF: I’m hopeful that the Falcons can play spoiler, but I’m not overly optimistic that they can pull it off given how much they’ve struggled to overcome the issues these past couple of weeks.
I think this Bucs team will be a significantly bigger challenge than the prior games Atlanta has played. I’m hoping it will be competitive to give me some optimism that in Week 17, the Falcons can take what they learned this week and pull off a win there. I expect the Bucs to control most of this game. If I were to give a score prediction, it would be a 27-17 win for the Bucs.