Atlanta has struggled against the run all season, but the Falcons did a marvelous job holding down Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin in a 24-23 victory on Sunday.
Martin did rush for two scores, but he only managed 50 yards on 21 carries. Atlanta coach Mike Smith was very pleased with how his embattled rush defense performed (via the Falcons' official site):
"I thought that our run defense played very well. [Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin] is an outstanding running back that had over 1,000 yards coming into this game. We knew it was going to be one of our ‘musts' and I thought we did a nice job with our run defense."
Atlanta entered the game in the bottom third of the NFL in rush defense, so limiting Martin's damage was huge in securing the divisional victory. The rookie running back had entered Sunday's game averaging over five yards per carry.
A big reason for the improved rush defense was the play of Sean Weatherspoon. The linebacker had missed the last three games, and Smith knows what kind of impact Weatherspoon can have on a game:
"Sean Weatherspoon is one of our best football players. We've missed him the last three weeks and having him back was a big boost for us. Not only in the way that we play the run but the volume that we can have. We have him in there; he's very efficient at what we want to do and getting us into the right fronts based on some formations."
Weatherspoon registered six total tackles and one tackle for loss in the victory. He had been previously battling an ankle injury.
The Falcons now hold a four-game lead in the NFC South and face the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.