The Tampa Bay Buccaneers not only got a win and, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians, their most complete performance on Sunday, they also got out of Atlanta with a "pretty clean" roster in terms of injuries. Rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting left the game in the fourth quarter with a leg injury but Arians indicated on Monday that he thought Murphy-Bunting would be fine.
That was one topic Arians touched on during his weekly day-after-game press conference. Here were a few of the other important discussions:
1. Extra work is paying off.
Immediately after Jamel Dean's breakout game against Arizona in Week 10, the rookie cornerback revealed that he had spent extra time each day of the previous week watching game tape with Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. Dean's performance improved so dramatically from Week Nine to Week 10 that his impromptu study hall has since welcomed a bunch of new students. Now Bowles is spending extra time with the entire secondary – which is comprised mostly of rookies and second-year players – and it's paying off.
"I think that's the best communication we've had on defense all year," said Arians of the Bucs' 35-22 win in Atlanta. "All that time those guys – especially those young guys – are putting in really showed up in this game. We had the one bust early on the long pass down the middle, and then we rallied [and] held them to three, got it fixed and played great from there."
Indeed, after tight end Jaeden Graham was left wide open in the middle of the field for a 53-yard gain on the game's second play, the Bucs only allowed two more passes of 20-plus yards, plus one run of 10-plus yards. That ties for the fewest "big play" Tampa Bay's defense has allowed in a game this year. The Bucs also got their hands on a lot of Matt Ryan's passes, with Dean and second-year cornerback Carlton Davis combining for 10 of the team's season-high 16 passes defensed. That tape study helped Dean and Davis and the rest anticipate and react more quickly.
"We were tight [in] coverage," said Arians. "They studied it, they knew what was happening [and] they were anticipating, maybe for the first time that I saw. [The] young guys – they knew what was coming and they played it well."
The Buccaneers' coaching staff also put in a little extra time during the week to scout the Falcons, primarily because there was a lot of new stuff to learn. After getting dismal defensive results for eight game, Atlanta used its bye week to make changes to their defensive approach and it worked like a charm on the other side of the bye. The Falcons allowed zero touchdowns and just four field goals combined in road wins over New Orleans and Carolina. The Buccaneers, however, had little trouble finding the end zone.
"Yeah, if you'd watched the previous games, it was a totally different defense," said Arians. "It was all man-to-man press, bear defense. This was more traditional, zone, Cover 2 [and] man mixed in and out. They changed three weeks ago after their little coaching change and I thought our guys did a heck of a job of having a plan for both."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 12 matchup against Atlanta.
2. Arians really appreciated the Bucs' offensive balance on Sunday, and in particular the play-calling on the touchdown drive to open the third quarter.
The Buccaneers ran the ball 34 times on Sunday and threw 28 passes without a sack. Of course, eight of those 34 runs were by quarterback Jameis, but half of them were kneel-downs to end each half. In essence, the Buccaneers' play-calling was nearly an even split between the run and the pass, and while having a lead usually leads to more runs the Buccaneers used their rushing attack effectively throughout the game.
"We were about 28-28 run-pass, and if you're in a game with that, you're going to have a chance," said Arians.
The Bucs' lead was only nine points at halftime but they came out of the intermission with the ball and immediately embarked on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Sixty-five of those yards came on the ground, and while that included a 24-yard Winston scramble there were also called runs for Ronald Jones, Scotty Miller and Dare Ogunbowale. Most of them worked, including a 25-yard dash for Jones followed by his own nifty, spinning touchdown run up the gut.
"It was huge," said Arians when asked about the play-calling on that drive. "It's exactly that – get the two-score [lead], get them out of the running game and let's tee off. We might've had one chunk in there, but the mixture of the runs and like I said, the tight ends, they had a handful this week blocking 300-pound linemen and we made those adjustments at halftime, and I thought the coaches did a hell of a job of getting those runs going."
3. Chris Godwin does some amazing things.
Godwin's 71-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter came on an outstanding throw by Winston, as the quarterback likely was trying to exploit the mismatch of his standout receiver against an inside linebacker (Deion Jones) trying to provide Tampa Two coverage down the middle of the field. The pass was thrown before Campbell could look back and it went behind his helmet through a tight window and into Godwin's arms even as safety Damontae Kazee was arriving on the scene. Jones fell in a spinning attempt to knock the pass away and Godwin bounced off Kazee to get into the open and sprint the last 44 yards.
"It's really amazing, his run after the catch," said Arians. "I never saw it in the spring because we're not tackling, but he has an uncanny knack of breaking the first one and he's so strong. It's not like he's real shifty – he's just extremely strong and tough."
There are other times – lots of them – when the Buccaneers don't want Godwin bouncing off defenders. The third-year receiver is such a willing and effective blocker that he is utilized extensively in the team's running schemes. On Sunday, the Buccaneers needed to make an in-game adjustment based on something they hadn't expected to see from Atlanta's defense, and they were able to do so with ease by relying on Godwin's blocking prowess.
"You're going to see new things," said Arians. "It might be a formation, it might be motions, so you adjust at halftime defensively. Offensively, it was where they were putting a safety down weak and not strong, and we had to rearrange how we were blocking things. It's the beauty of having Chris Godwin – take the linebacker and let the tackle block the safety, and he blocked him every time, so the running game really got going."