Bucs' defensive backs get a challenge from Raheem Morris
Judging solely by the numbers, you might assume the Tampa Bay secondary was fretting over the 255 combined yards between Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
And you’d be wrong.
To the contrary, the Bucs invited the Falcons to make plays in the passing game. In fact, the game plan was to get pressure on QB Matt Ryan, stop RB Michael Turner and let the defensive backs take their chances in single coverage.
“We’ve had three different game plans all three weeks this year,” CB Ronde Barber said. “The first week, we had to stop Calvin (Johnson), which we didn’t do that well. The second week we had to stop Adrian (Peterson), which we did pretty well in the second half.
“This week (the plan) was to challenge Matt Ryan to see if he could throw into tight windows and tight coverage. We knew this was on us (in the secondary). I think for the most part, we held our own. They’re good, man. They’re talented. They’re big. They’re athletic. It’s a challenge we were willing and ready to accept.”
Here’s how it unfolded. The Bucs assigned Aqib Talib to shadow rookie phenom Jones, something the Falcons, perhaps, did not expect.
“They probably thought I was going to come out on Roddy,” Talib explained. “They probably game planned for it, so we tried to throw something at them.”
That left Barber on White in base coverage. But the Bucs spent much of the game in the nickel and dime packages. At those times, it fell to nickel back E.J. Biggers to defend White. Biggers had some rough moments, White finishing with 9 catches for 140 yards. But Biggers, knowing he had little deep help, managed to prevent White from getting behind him and taking one to the end zone.
“He’s a good receiver,” Biggers said. “He’s one of the best receivers in this league. But you just have to scratch and claw. When you’re a defensive back, it’s going to happen.”
Talib was solid throughout on Jones, though Jones caught a 49-yard pass on a scramble play. Meanwhile, Falcons great Tony Gonzalez caught just 2 passes for 18 yards, though one was a 10-yard touchdown.
The idea wasn’t for it to be pretty, but effective. In the end, Ryan completed a relatively low 55 percent of his attempts.
“We’ll look at this film and be happy with what we put on film and move forward,” Barber said. “It was a challenge early and it’s good to know we could handle it.”