We look ahead to Sunday’s game in Tampa, when the Falcons’ run defense will get its first look at Doug Martin, in today’s Key Matchup.
Key matchup: Bucs RB Doug Martin vs. Falcons run defense
The Achilles' heel for the Falcons this season has been their run defense — they are ranked 26th vs. the run (130.5 rushing yards allowed per game) and are one of only three teams that allow five or more yards per carry.
They have been gashed by teams (the Saints and Cardinals) ranked toward the bottom of the league in rushing for more than 135 yards in each of the past two games, and will need to play a more physical game if they are going to have any hope of slowing down electric Bucs RB Doug Martin on Sunday.
It will be a dangerous strategy to play eight men in the box vs. Tampa Bay — the Falcons are going to need their safeties playing over the top with a good-sized vertical threat in WR Vincent Jackson threatening to beat them deep at any moment and a strong-armed QB Josh Freeman capable of connecting with him for a game-breaking play. Atlanta is going to have to rely on a front seven that has not been up to the task of limiting big plays to keep Martin, who has rushed for 135 yards or more in three of the past four games, from picking up yards in chunks.
Only Marshawn Lynch (1,005) and Adrian Peterson (1,128) have rushed for more yards than Martin (1,000) this season. He has adjusted after struggling a bit out of the gate and has a rare blend of speed, strength, vision and balance.
The Falcons are expected on Sunday to welcome back their best linebacker, WLB Sean Weatherspoon, who missed the past three games with an ankle injury, but Atlanta’s problems stopping the run extend beyond the past few weeks. They allowed an average of 144 yards rushing in their first six games before showing improvement vs. the Eagles and Cowboys in Weeks Eight and Nine (Weatherspoon did not play when Atlanta allowed a season-low 65 rushing yards to Dallas).
The Falcons need MLB Akeem Dent, a first-year starter, to win one-on-one battles with Bucs FB Erik Lorig, who has done a fine job of clearing holes for Martin. If Dent plays one of his better games, it will be the duty of Weatherspoon and SLB Stephen Nicholas to scrape and make plays.
Martin keeps his feet chopping through contact and will be off to the races again if Atlanta defenders do not wrap him up.