The Falcons extended their win streak to 3 after dispatching the fading Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-20 on Sunday. There was a brief stretch of nervousness after the Falcons lost both Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole. The Bucs got within a TD in the fourth quarter, but Atlanta’s defense shut down a 4th-and-1 attempt in the red zone and the offense took over from there.
This was a pretty entertaining game that featured a strong performance from the offense throughout, and a pretty strong performance by the defense in the first half. If you’d like to read my play-by-play reactions, check out my tweet recap below:
Without further adieu, here are my in-depth observations from Sunday’s impressive victory.
The offense has found a rhythm
In a 2017 season filled with ups and downs on offense, we’ve seen very little consistency from the players or Steve Sarkisian. Early in the year, we saw Matt Ryan visibly uncomfortable and off on his intermediate-to-deep throws. The playcalling and usage of the Falcons’ offensive weapons was nonsensical at best. After the Falcons fell to 4-4 on the back of several awful offensive performances, there wasn’t much hope for a turnaround this season.
Fast forward to Week 13, and the Falcons are sitting at 7-4 on the back of a 3-game winning streak. The offense has come to life thanks to a hot streak by Matt Ryan and improved game planning by Sarkisian. We’ve begun to see some of the creative formations and play designs that made the 2016 Falcons so difficult to deal with. Players are executing a high a level, and Julio Jones just dropped 253 yards and 2 TDs on the hapless Bucs’ secondary. It’s clear that the offense has found a rhythm—let’s just hope they can keep it up heading into the most important part of their schedule.
Special teams looked improved, but not perfect
Special teams has been a constant issue for this Falcons team in 2017. At certain times this season, it felt like they couldn’t return or cover a kick without committing a penalty. Against the Buccaneers, the Falcons didn’t commit any special teams penalties—a first this season. Add to that a very solid performance from Andre Roberts, who had three very good returns and no catastrophic failures, and you get a pretty good day from a unit that has struggled badly this season.
The lone mistake came on punt coverage, where C.J. Goodwin had a shot to down a ball inside the 5 of the Bucs. Instead, he let the ball bounce and inexplicably turned his back to the play, where the ball immediately went into the endzone. It appeared that he seriously misjudged the trajectory of the ball. That’s an annoying play that should’ve been better, but it wasn’t a hugely impactful error. I’ll take one middling mistake over huge blunders any day of the week.
The pass rush was MIA
The biggest issue in the entire game, in my opinion, was the conspicuous lack of pass rush. Tampa Bay clearly designed a gameplan with the intention of slowing down the pass rush—which certainly played a role—but we’ve come to expect more from this Falcons’ defensive line. Ryan Fitzpatrick, down multiple starting OL at one time during the game, was only sacked once during the entire contest despite the Bucs falling behind by multiple scores.
Atlanta managed to get pressure on Fitzpatrick during a few key moments (the fourth-and-1 play comes to mind), but they weren’t as disruptive as they should’ve been when facing an inferior opponent. Perhaps this was just an off week, but the Falcons will need to prove they can consistently pressure the opposing QB if they want to scrape out wins against the Vikings and Saints in the coming weeks.
Atlanta has very good RB depth
When the Falcons lost Devonta Freeman to a concussion, none of us were entirely sure how the offense would respond. Freeman is such an integral piece of this unit that it’s hard to imagine it without him. Fortunately, Atlanta had two very capable back-ups to call upon in Freeman’s absence. Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward have proven that they can handle the load and keep this offense on track with Devonta Freeman temporarily sidelined.
Coleman, in particular, has looked great as the lead back for the Falcons. His speed makes him a home-run threat from anywhere on the field, and it’s clear that his strength and balance have improved measurably from his previous seasons. If the Falcons can’t manage to re-sign him in 2019, he’ll almost assuredly become a very good starter for another team. Terron Ward—fumble aside—has also proven that he’s a solid fill-in for Freeman. He’s essentially “Freeman-light”, showing some of the same traits in the running and passing game that we’ve come to associate with Freeman: vision, elusiveness, and pass-catching ability. Atlanta has perhaps the most enviable RB situation in the league.
The DB depth will be tested in the coming weeks
After Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole left with injuries, the Falcons were forced to rely upon their depth to finish out the game. C.J. Goodwin had to step in and attempt to cover Mike Evans (with middling results, at best) and Ricardo Allen dropped down to play the slot. That means that rookie Damontae Kazee came in as the FS. The Falcons’ defense understandably struggled in that configuration, particularly with the pass rush having such a lackluster showing.
Goodwin, all things considered, wasn’t a trainwreck—he played about as well as you could hope against a top-tier WR like Evans. Ricardo Allen, however, played very well at nickel CB. His experience there in his college days shone through, and he’s proven himself a versatile and dependable DB in this defense. Kazee has shown flashes at FS, and he’ll likely be relied upon even more if Trufant and Poole are forced to miss any more time. Atlanta will almost certainly sign another CB if either are expected to be out for the Minnesota game, but that player is unlikely to be more than emergency depth.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons win over the Bucs? Do you think Atlanta has a realistic shot at the playoffs going forward? How do you feel about this week’s match-up with the Vikings?