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Falcons vs Buccaneers: Can the offense fly high again?

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Against a Mike Smith defense, there’s a good chance they do.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

After putting up big numbers in a 3 game stretch at home, the Falcons offense sputtered on the road against the Steelers last week, en route to an embarrassing loss. Th

Note: Assessments are based on PFF scoring.

In the trenches

The Falcons offensive line has been a mixed bag this season. Jake Matthews has been the best player by far, showing he deserved the contract extension he received. Alex Mack has had some rough performances, but is still playing decently, if not up to his normal All-Pro standards. Ryan Schraeder has struggled as of late, though he’s still doing well in the run game. The interior guys - Wes Schweitzer and Brandon Fusco - are holding up well enough, but are also prone to get blown up on occasion. This is a unit that has the ability to do better, but is playing at or around league average right now.

Unfortunately, the Bucs do have some good ones in the trenches. Gerald McCoy is still one of the best defensive tackles in the league and is showing that this season. Vita Vea is struggling as a rookie, but you almost expect that light to turn on at some point. Jason Pierre-Paul’s best years may be behind him, but he can still get after the QB. Vinny Curry is a capable end, but is not the threat that McCoy and Pierre-Paul are.

If the Falcons offensive line were playing up to their capabilities, this match up would likely favor them again. However, until they can bounce back, this kind of match up becomes closer than it should be.

Advantage: Push

The skill positions

When they’re executing and in rhythm, this Falcons offensive unit is one of the most dangerous in the NFL. Matt Ryan has had a strong season mixed in with a couple of bad games. Devonta Freeman hasn’t had a good or healthy season thus far, and he may miss yet another game due to his late addition to the injury report this week. Tevin Coleman is capable, but has really only had one great game in 2018. Ito Smith has been the surprisingly consistent running back, looking solid in the playing time he’s gotten this year. The receiving corps is one of the best in the league, with Julio Jones being the perennial All-star of the unit. Mohamed Sanu is reliable and trusted by Ryan. Calvin Ridley has been a big boon to the offense, showcasing impressive route running and excellent speed. At tight end, Austin Hooper has had a good season, though he still leaves a lot to be desired as a pass blocker.

The Bucs defense will be challenged by this Falcons unit. CB Brent Grimes has been great throughout his career, but is struggling this year. Second round pick Carlton Davis isn’t much better on the other side. In nickel sets, M.J. Stewart is not an improvement either. At safety, second year player Justin Evans is improving and looks to be a quality starter. Isaiah Johnson is good against the run, but struggles in coverage. The linebackers are a mixed bag. Lavonte David is a very good linebacker who is a force against the run and decent in coverage. Kwon Alexander is capable of playing better, but is definitely having a down year. Adarius Taylor is definitely the weak link here, as he’s playing pretty poorly in 2018 so far.

So long as the Falcons come in with a good game plan, there’s little reason to think the Buccaneers safeties and corners will be able to do much to stop the Falcons passing attack.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

Tampa Bay has one of the worst defenses in the league, though they aren’t completely devoid of talent. This is definitely a match up the Falcons can win, they just have to execute like they’re capable of doing.

Advantage: Falcons