It feels like this NFL season has lasted hundreds of years with how badly the Falcons have performed this season.
It also may feel like this because the Falcons had a bye week after another hard fought loss to the New York Jets.
But now the Falcons have a chance to end what has been a frustrating, harrowing stretch of losing four of five games and hopefully beat the hapless Buccaneers tomorrow.
Here are three keys to the game tomorrow.
Josh Freeman was traded a couple of weeks ago after losing the starting quarterback job to Mike Glennon. The Falcons had trouble containing Freeman with his scrambling ability, but now they don't have to worry about that as Mike Glennon is more of a traditional five-seven step drop back and pass type of quarterback.
He's also a rookie navigating the league with what is arguably the worst football team in the NFL.
The Falcons defense last year was able to do a really good job of forcing turnovers. That hasn't been the case this season. Through five games, the Falcons have only caused four turnovers.
Last year, they caused 31, averaging 1.9 per game.
This year with only four turnovers forced in five games, they are averaging 0.8 turnovers a game. They are on pace to finish well below the 31 turnovers they caused last season.
Through two games Glennon has thrown three interceptions. The Falcons defense has to force turnovers this game. It's the way the Falcons were able to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos last season, as well as Drew Brees and the much hated Saints. But without turnovers being forced, the Falcons defense has been eaten alive this year. The Falcons can't let the rookie find a rhythm as he was able to do for a stretch in his first game against the Eagles. But without turnovers being forced, the Falcons defense has been eaten alive this year.
The key will be to force pressure early, and continue sending that pressure to overwhelm the rookie and hopefully force Glennon to make some bad decisions with the football. The Falcons don't have to worry about the scramble anymore, now all they have to do is send continuous pressure to rattle Glennon and the winless Buccaneers.
A BALANCED ATTACK
The Falcons are missing their top rushing weapon (Steven Jackson) and their top receiving weapons (Julio Jones, Roddy White). The Falcons greatest strength is quickly becoming a glaring hole. The key this week will be to keep the Bucs on their toes with a balanced offensive attack. To not lean too heavily on Harry Douglas, Kevin Cone and Drew Davis, who are now the top 3 wide receivers on the team. To not lean too heavily on Jason Snelling or Jacquizz Rodgers in the run game.
Dirk Koetter has to mix up his play calling this weekend to alleviate the pressure on the deficient receiving and running corps. respectively and to keep the Bucs guessing. At times Koetter will fall in love with the pass far too much, particularly in the red zone. He can't afford to do that this week.
Yes, he'll have Tony Gonzalez, so that may mean that he leans more on the pass this week, as that is someone who is accustomed to pressure being on his shoulders. But it doesn't give him an excuse to forsake the running game.
Tampa has been relying mainly on zone defense this year, even with the acquisition of shut down corner Darrelle Revis, who clearly isn't 100% after recovering from knee surgery.
So the Falcons may lean on the pass more this week because of these factors, but due to a lack of a consistent offense, the Falcons have to keep things more balanced then they're accustomed to.
The Bucs offensive line has given up 11 sacks this season. The Falcons need to take advantage of that.
The Falcons have struggled all year and been ravaged by a barrage of injuries and lots of misplays in the red zone, and on defense. But the bye week came at a perfect time in which this team hopefully worked on many of these issues over the last two weeks and were able to feel more confident heading into this game.
A clean slate is how the Falcons need to approach this game. Forget about the bad start, the injuries, the bad luck, and just start anew. A week away from the game was probably the best thing for this team.
The Falcons are still the better team in relation to Tampa Bay. They need to show that right off the bat. Get on top early, make adjustments and play four complete quarters of football. Their will be some lulls, there will be some miscues between Ryan and his new receiving corps. But these are the things that good teams overcome.
The Falcons, despite their results have been only one or two plays away from having a winning record this season. Everything that could go wrong has this season. Against Tampa Bay, this is the perfect opportunity to get back on the horse.
It's time for this team to rise above its adversity, or give into it. This is truly the last gasp. It's do or die tomorrow at the Georgia Dome.
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