The Falcons push for a playoff spot continued on Sunday with a much needed win against an ailing Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Atlanta really needed to dominate this game - and for the most part, they did. However, some injuries and turnovers kept it closer than it had any right to be. Here are some key takeaways from the victory.
Falcons need this Julio to get to the playoffs
While the 2016 Falcons did a better overall job of spreading the football around, make no mistake: This offense is always better when Julio Jones is getting the ball. As he showed on Sunday, he can single-handedly destroy an entire defense if given a chance. Going up against one of the worst defenses in the league also doesn’t hurt, but it shows how much of a game changer he truly is.
With games coming up against far better defenses (Vikings, Saints, Panthers), the Falcons need this Julio Jones in order to compete. At the very least, this Julio opens up the rest of the offense. The defenses can’t stack the box against Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. They’ll be forced to give single-coverage to guys like Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel or Justin Hardy. In short, he alters defensive game plans and gives everyone opportunities.
Injuries loom large
Of all the things to come out of the game Sunday, the most concerning are the injuries to Desmond Trufant (concussion) and Brian Poole (back). We’ll know more as the week progresses, but it’s almost a certainty that Trufant will miss the game against the Vikings. Hopefully, Brian Poole can make it back in time, but if he’s also out, the team will likely turn to C.J. Goodwin and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to fill in (along with using safeties like Demontae Kazee and Sharrod Neasman more). That is a considerable drop-off in talent and is very worrying when facing one of the hottest teams in the NFC in the Vikings.
The inconsistent pass rush
The Falcons pass rush is improved from last year and is light years better than 2015, but this is still an inconsistent unit. They’ve dominated in recent weeks against subpar competition, as they should, but they still struggle to show up on a regular basis. I believe it will continue to get better as guys like Takk McKinley develop, but they were invisible for large stretches of the game yesterday. That was epecially glaring during the 14-0 run the Bucs went on to bring the game to within 7 points.
I’m personally happy with the progress of the pass rush - it was never going to become a top unit overnight - so this is not entirely unexpected. However, with injuries in our secondary, it would be ideal if they’d begin progressing a little more over the next few games. If we’re going to make a playoff push, this pass rush needs to mature quickly over the final five games.