At his Monday press conference, head coach Dan Quinn said a number of problems that hurt the Falcons in 2015 — red zone offense, penalties, missed tackles — were present during their loss to the Buccaneers. The good news, he added, is those problems can be corrected.
What's a lot more difficult to correct is the team's physical skills. That was addressed in the offseason, when draft picks and free agent additions made Atlanta a more athletic group. And while they didn't get the result they wanted on Sunday, the Falcons showed they're undoubtedly faster than last year's club.
"I'd probably say the overall speed is the one thing that jumps out both offensively and defensively," Quinn said. "The more speed you have, the more urgency you're playing with so we've got to keep digging."
Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell have helped in this area. Both struggled at times in their regular season debuts, but the raw ability that made them attractive prospects was visible.
That talent was clear as they defended the run. Doug Martin, coming off a season in which he earned 1,402 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, amassed only 62 yards versus Atlanta on 18 attempts — a 3.44 average. On Martin's third rush of the contest, he saw a clogged lane and tried to cut outside, but Campbell sniffed out the play and dropped the Pro Bowl RB for a six-yard loss.
In the fourth quarter, when the Falcons were down 10 points and needed a defensive stop, Jones came through.
With 10:49 left in regulation, Jameis Winston dropped back for a second-down pass, surveyed the field and opted to sprint down the right side. Jones had backpedaled more than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but he kept his eyes locked on No. 3. And when he saw Winston take off, Jones, who reportedly ran a 4.38 40-yard dash in college, used his motor to track the QB down and prevent an explosive play.
On a potentially dangerous run, Winston gained just four yards. Tampa punted two snaps later; Atlanta made it a one-possession game on the ensuing drive.
"It was good for both of us to be out there as live bullets in the regular season in a divisional game, which is even more important," Campbell said. "It was a great experience for both of us, and I think we just have to learn from it moving forward."
Newfound speed, in addition to Matt Bosher's trustworthy leg, helped Atlanta's special teams unit, as well. Four of Bosher's five punts in Week 1 ended up inside the 20; due to a couple penalties against the Bucs, all of them pinned Tampa Bay inside their own 10.
Adam Humphries — a solid return specialist at Clemson — had to call fair catches on all four of those kicks. He was smart to do so, because recent signees Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin were in his face each time.
"The punt game with Matt Bosher, he boomed a couple, and I think we had four out of five that were inside the 20," Quinn said. "You could see the speed outside at gunner and you saw that with C.J. Goodwin.
"The speed at a number of spots is different, and it feels that way."