The Atlanta Falcons are currently 6-4, with a legitimate shot at a playoff spot and an outside chance at winning the NFC South. They have clawed, scraped, kicked, and spit their way up to this record after a nightmarish month or so that saw them lose to three of the four AFC East teams, including the Dolphins.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the Falcons cannot let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come beat them in their own house. That should give them a ton of motivation for the easiest game left on the schedule (on paper), but it also means none of us are going to stop being nervous until the Falcons have a 28 point lead in the fourth quarter.
With that in mind, here’s one soothing reason to feel confident, and one reason to worry about the outcome of Sunday’s game.
One reason to be confident: The Tampa Bay pass defense
The Falcons have not faced a pass rush this lacking since very early in the year, if ever in 2017. It’s true.
Sunday's matchup:— Mike Conti (@MikeConti929) November 21, 2017
Bucs defense is 31st against the pass, 32nd on 3rd Down and 30th in sacks/attempt
Falcons offense is 13th passing, 6th on 3rd Down, and 8th best in sacks/attempt
The Bucs are probably the most damning indictment you can imagine of the way Mike Smith does business on defense. Smitty, a terrific man and good coach, just does not seem to either A) have the talent or B) have the aptitude to stop passing attacks in 2017. His defense is bad at rushing the passer, terrible at getting off the field on third downs, and generally bad at stopping passing attacks. That might have been less of a liability a month ago when Atlanta’s passing game was listless, but it’s a big problem right now.
Tampa Bay’s only real hope of stopping the Falcons’ passing attack is to get turnovers or rely on Steve Sarkisian to do some very dumb things. The former seems like a safer bet than the latter of late, which is a relief. This particular aspect of the matchup constitutes a great reason to feel confident.
One reason to worry: That Tampa Bay passing attack
The jury’s out on DeSean Jackson and his ability to beat the very good cornerback duo of Desmond Trufant and Robert Aford. Mike Evans, though? Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard? That might be more of a problem.
I don’t believe Ryan Fitzpatrick is in the same league as Jameis Winston in terms of talent, but he’s got some big, fast weapons to work with here, and that’s problematic. Evans is one of the hardest matchups for Trufant and Alford anywhere, given his combination of size, speed, and leaping ability, and Brate and Howard are nettlesome because they can give even good linebackers and safeties the slip. It would not shock me to see Tampa Bay wind up with close to 300 yards passing, because the talent is there for them to do so. If they can sling it—and Fitzpatrick doesn’t throw interceptions—this one is likely to be more interesting than we’d like.