When Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris gathered the entire team together for the first time since the dramatic 20-17 loss to the Chargers on Sunday, he had a singular purpose.
“Protection” was on his mind.
“It was one of the first slides I put up,” Morris said. “We were talking about some of our ‘must do’s,’ and we definitely incorporated protection.”
The Falcons (4-9) are set to the host the blitz-happy Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“When you’re talking about protecting Matt, which we talked about early,” Morris said. “We have to get him protected. You must get (him time) to get the ball out of his hands, get him to do a couple of different things with the cadence. … You’ve got to protect your quarterback at all (times).”
The Bucs still hold the Falcons’ offense in high regard.
“I still see a lot of dangerous guys out there,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “Obviously, they are missing (running back Todd) Gurley a little bit. They are going to run the ball a little bit. Mix it up, and then they’re going deep.”
The Bucs contend that Ryan is fine, too.
“I don’t see any drop-off in Matt’s play,” Arians said. “When he’s protected, he’s solid. It’s just a matter for us getting that run game shut down and then getting after him.”
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%). The Bucs, who rank tied for fourth in the league with 40 sacks, feasted on the Falcons blocking woes last season.
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 the game for Ryan.
In the 28-22 win in the season finale that was gifted by former Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in overtime, the Bucs sacked Ryan six times for 35 yards in losses and hit him another 14 times.
The Bucs have four players with five sacks or more in Jason Pierre-Paul, who leads the Bucs with 9.5 sacks, Shaquil Barrett (eight), linebacker Devin White (five) and defensive end Ndamukong Suh (five).
“They’re good up front,” Ryan said. “A really good front seven, five guys on the defensive line that are excellent pass rushers. Very good linebackers, and they play good coverage.”
Ryan noted that Bowles is an aggressive play-caller.
“They stress you snap-in and snap-out to be on top of your scheme and be on top of your pass protection,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to do a great job of that this week.”
The Bucs are not predictable. Ryan said they blitz on all downs and distances.
“You’ve got to be prepared in every personnel grouping, every situation to account for extra rushers in the pass game,” Ryan said.
Morris believes Ryan will shake off the three-interception performance.
“It’s more of him being accountable to his team, coaches, everybody around, his family, his fans,” Morris said. “He’s a phenomenal player, and he’s a better human. He was the first to apologize for his mistakes and faults in the game.”
Morris tried to spread some of the culpability for the Chargers’ loss around.
“But at the same time, I told him that some of his faults lay (with) his coaches, in what he did, the people around him. We all have to do better job for each other,” Morris said. “It’s our job to pick each other up when we are not playing at our best.
“Our best player had his worst game of the season. That won’t happen often.”
Wide receiver Julio Jones did not practice Wednesday and appears to be in danger of missing his fifth game of the season, which won’t help Ryan and the Falcons’ offense.
“We have got confidence in Matt Ryan,” Morris said. “Our organization has confidence in Matt Ryan. Our players have confidence in Matt Ryan, and he’s going to bounce back because of his process more than anything.
“The man uses the same process that he’s been using over the last 13 years to put him in the same conversation as Peyton Manning. When you are that kind of guy and that kind of player, you work speaks for itself.”
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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