Cover 9@9: Can Ryan bounce back vs. stout Bucs?

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrated touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst (81) in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrated touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst (81) in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The no-spin zone. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter believes that Matt Ryan will bounce back from tossing three interceptions for the first time 24 games.

Ryan has 202 regular-season starts and 10 playoff games, including Super Bowl LI. Across those 212 career NFL starts, Ryan has thrown three or more interceptions in just 11 games.

Ryan will be under duress against Tampa Bay on Sunday, but Koetter believes he’ll take care of the football.

“Matt has been really good with the ball this year and turnovers have not been an issue for us,” Koetter said. “But they hurt us in the second half. That was uncharacteristic of this season. He’s been doing a really good job of taking care of the football.”

Ryan has not thrown an interception in five games this season. He hasn’t thrown three in a game since Game 2 of 2019 — a 24-20 win over the Eagles.

Koetter is expecting Ryan to rebound.

“We’ll just get back to it,” Koetter said. “I know Matt will be all over his details as he always is.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter discusses how Matt Ryan will rebound, Gurley’s dip in production and Matt Gono’s job at right tackles.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

However, the Bucs got after Ryan last season. Over the two games, the Bucs sacked Ryan 12 times and had 28 quarterback hits as they over-powered the Falcons’ offensive line.

With Julio Jones status up in the air, one person who could step up and help out Ryan more is tight end Hayden Hurst, who’s been targeted 71 times and has caught 43 passes for a 60.6 catch percentage. He’s amassed 475 yards and three touchdowns.

For the record, former Falcons tight end Austin Hooper’s catch percentage was 80.7% in 2018 and 77.3% in 2019. He’s played in just 10 games with Cleveland this season and has caught 30 of 44 targets for a 68.7 catch percentage.

“I think our track record is pretty good at throwing the ball to tight ends,” Koetter said. “Hayden, he’s still got that lingering ankle he’s been fighting his way through. His overall snaps have been down. He’s playing less than he was earlier in the year.”

Hurst’s numbers are all career-highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.

“If you really looked at it, we had a lot more things set up for him to be No. 1 in the progression and times that he was actually targeted,” Koetter said. “I know in the stats they have to put out who was targeted, but those stats are not any where close to ... the stats don’t always indicate the number of times the guy was No. 1 in the progression, but he doesn’t necessarily get the ball.”

Hurst has caught 2 of 7 targets over the past two games.

“We had several play actions (against the Chargers) where he was running a post in the middle of the field and we were trying to beat their linebacker over the top,” Koetter said. “If you really take a good look at it, those linebackers were taking extremely deep drops in their zone coverages.”

So, Ryan had to move off of Hurst.

“That was either forcing Matt to check it down underneath those linebackers or usually we had an in-cut or something coming in behind Hayden’s post route,” Koetter said. “That’s how Matt hit Russ (Gage) on one of those and he hit (Calvin Ridley) on one of those also. Then a couple of check downs to the backs.”

2. Is it time to find Ryan’s heir apparent? AJC columnist Steve Hummer tackles this weighty question and offers up some options.

3. Blitz happy Bucs. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has blitzed the second most times in the league behind Pittsburgh.

The Bucs have blitzed 213 times (38.4%) and the Steelers have blitzed 217 times (42.1%).

Last season, the Falcons had trouble blocking the Bucs.

In the 35-22 loss on Nov. 24, 2019, the Bucs had six sacks for 46 yards in losses and 14 quarterback hits. Matt Schaub finished up the game for Ryan.

In the 28-22 win that was gifted by former Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in overtime, the Bucs sacked Ryan 6 times for 35 yards in losses and hit him another 14 times.

“They’re a problem on defense,” Morris said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Jason Pierre-Paul leads the Bucs with 9.5 sacks and Shaquil Barrett has eight sacks. Linebacker Devin White and defensive end Ndamukong Suh both have five sacks.

4. Gono played well: Right tackle Matt Gono had a strong game against the Chargers while subbing for Kaleb McGary, who was away for a family/personal matter.

“He did a pretty good job against a very good player,” Morris said. “He competed all day against (Joey) Bosa. He played really well. We are really excited to see him play and see him grow.”

Koetter said. “Matt Gono did a really good job at tackle replacing Kaleb. He had a difficult matchup against (Joey) Bosa and I thought he held his own.”

Bosa was held to no sacks, three tackles and three quarterback hits. Gono played 57 offensive snaps (100%).

5. Neasman stepped in. With free safety Ricardo Allen in the concussion protocol, Sharrod Neasman made the start against the Chargers and played well over all 73 defensive snaps. He finished with two tackles.

“Neasman, actually went out there and did a nice job,” Morris said. “(He was) doing some of the things that we ask Rico to do a bunch. Which is playing the middle of the field, being an erase tackler and limiting the explosives and things of that nature. You didn’t get a chance to see a lot of explosives from those guys. Neasman went out there and did a pretty good job for himself.”

6. Davidson update. Falcons rookie tackle Marlon Davidson suffered a knee injury against the Chargers. He played only 9 of 73 defensive snaps (12%).

“Marlon went out of the game with a little knee soreness,” Morris said. “He followed up with the Docs (on Monday). They feel like he’ll be fine. We’ll get a better feel for that on Wednesday when it’s time to practice.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter - both former head coaches in Tampa Bay - break down the Bucs offense, defense.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

7. Series history. This will be the 54th meeting of the Falcons and the Buccaneers. The Falcons lead the series, 28-25. The Falcons won the last meeting 28-22 in overtime on Dec. 29, 2019, when Deion Jones returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in overtime.

ExploreRaheem Morris hasn't won a game against Tom Brady

8. Tale of the tape. Here’s how the Falcons and Buccaneers matchup in the key statistical areas:

FALCONS-BUCCANEERS

25.2 (16) Pts/Game 28.5 (6)

367.2 (15) Tot Off. 358.2 (17)

98.3 (25) Rush Yds/Game 97.2 (26)

268.9 (6) Net Pass Yds/Game 261.0 (11)

30:30 (15) Poss Avg 28:18 (27)

24.8 (16t) Opp Pts/Game 22.6 (11)

390.6 (28) Opp Tot Off. 330.3 (7)

108.8 (10) Opp Rush Yds/Game 80.9 (1)

281.8 (30) Opp Pass Yds/Game 249.4 (21)

+3 (12t) Turnover Differential +5 (8t)

Depth chart: The Falcons released their official depth chart Tuesday for their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Here’s the most recent depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono

LG 77 James Carpenter, 65 Justin McCray

C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 75 John Wetzel

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 87 Jaeden Graham, 88 Luke Stocker

WR 83 Russell Gage, 15 Brandon Powell,

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 80 Laquon Treadwell

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

HB 21 Todd Gurley, 23 Brian Hill, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 92 Charles Harris

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 55 Steven Means, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Edmond Robinson

LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker

RCB 34 Darqueze Dennard, 20 Kendall Sheffield

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 44 Tyler Hall

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 15 Brandon Powell

PR 15 Brandon Powell

Falcons’ final three games

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 27

Falcons at Buccaneers at 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 3

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