Up until last Sunday against Indianapolis, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ cornerbacks had been doing a solid job of limiting receivers to run crazy. The Buccaneers’ pass defense started to improve when the team made the switch to Sterling Moore and undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah at cornerback in the team’s eighth game against the New York Giants.
The resurgence of the pass defense has helped Tampa Bay climb into the playoff race. At 5-6, the Buccaneers are in eighth place, one game behind Seattle for the final playoff spot. That makes today’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons a crucial contest. The Falcons are at 6-5 and in seventh place in the NFC. The Bucs know the importance of this game.
“It’s a big football game for us,” said head coach Lovie Smith. “We have an opportunity with the second go-round in the division. We played each other before, we know each other better. It was a tough game last time, of course we are expecting the same type of game, one that we both need. We need it. We feel like we need it more than they do. That’s a big deal for us.”
The Buccaneers know if they want to stay in the playoff race they must contain Atlanta receiver Julio Jones. Jones leads the NFL in catches (94) and receiving yards (1,245). He also has six touchdowns. In the first meeting, a 23-20 Tampa Bay victory, Jones has 12 catches for 162 yards.
“Look at his numbers”” said defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer. “He’s on a record pace. He has a chance to – I think it’s Marvin (Harrison’s) record. He is having a terrific season without question. A lot of defenses are going into games on Sundays trying to figure out ways to take him away or at least slow him down. I don’t think you are going to shut him out. They do a lot of things to get him the football. He may be the most dynamic player that we have today. He’s a special guy without question. The way they utilize him puts a lot of pressure on your defense and our goal is to kind of contain it.
“I don’t know if we can completely keep him from catching balls but just limit the number of times he has a chance to go over the top of our defense,” Frazier said. “He’s going to get his catches. He’s a great talent and we have to contend with him (today).”
Tampa Bay rarely sticks one player on a receiver so expect Adjei-Barimah and Moore to match up against Jones today.
The duo didn’t have a good game against Indianapolis. Donte Moncrief was targeted nine times and caught eight passes for 114 yards. T.Y. Hilton was targeted 12 times. He made six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. Some of those receptions were against the Tampa Bay corners but not all of them.
“They hit some passes in some man coverage,” Frazier said. “But everything that had happened wasn’t on Jude [Adjei-Barimah] and Sterling [Moore]. Our defensive line, our safeties as well, even our linebackers – sometimes drops – contributed to some of those completions so it may seem to the viewers that it’s just the corners but on a lot of those completions that wasn’t the case. There were some other guys that had responsibilities that didn’t quite get their jobs done either.”
The defensive line will be under the gun as defensive ends Jacquies Smith (hamstring) and George Johnson (calf) are definitely out for today’s game. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand) was listed as doubtful.
But the secondary will be as well, having to deal with Jones.
“Again, he’s one of the great players in the league,” Smith said. “We look forward to playing him. He’s a good player, but in order for us to achieve our goals we need to be able to play well versus good players.”