The Falcons have the opportunity to finish the season avoiding double-digit losses when they travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Bucs are already sitting at 5-10 with their eyes on a top-10 draft pick and another year to figure out what went wrong. In fairness, Tampa’s defense has looked much improved since they fired Mike Smith, so this could be a tougher defense the Falcons will face than the one from earlier this season. Here’s how the two units match up.
Note: Assessments based on 2018 PFF scores.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has improved as of late. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have been the two steadiest performers with each ranking in the top-7 of their respective positions. Wes Schweitzer has been decent, though he has definitely had some very rough games during the year. Zane Beadles and Ben Garland have split duty at right guard and neither has been a reassuring presence. Most surprisingly, Ty Sambrailo has played well in relief of an under-performing Ryan Schraeder. Overall, the unit is still in flux but has been showing signs of improvement in recent weeks.
The Bucs have some talent in their defensive front. Gerald McCoy is still a disruptor on the inside and rookie DT Vita Vea has really come along as the season has progressed. Jason Pierre-Paul has 11.5 sacks on the year, leading the team. Carl Nassib has also looked better recently. On nickel downs, William Gholston comes in at DT and is a huge downgrade from both Vea and McCoy. This is a unit that has the talent to cause headaches and has played better since Mike Smith was fired (we may bring this up repeatedly in this article).
Tampa’s unit is dominant, but they have the guys that can disrupt the pocket. This match up is one to watch, as it’s too close to call on paper.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan is putting up big numbers yet again and has been playing very well, so long as he gets good protection. Julio Jones continues to be one of the most dominant receivers in the league. Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley are a nice compliment, but Ridley has to improve his hands in year two. Austin Hooper has really turned into a good receiving tight end in his third year. In the backfield, Tevin Coleman has proven to be a boom or bust kind of player. His upside is huge, but he’s also prone to completely silent games as well. Brian Hill demonstrated he may have some upside as well, but the jury is still out. Overall, this is still an impressive offensive unit that can be impossible to stop if the offensive line plays well.
Tampa Bay’s corners are a definite weak spot. Brent Grimes has not been himself, playing pretty poorly this year. Ryan Smith is a regular in the highlight reels whenever these two teams play - and for all the wrong reasons. Javien Elliott is actually the better player in this unit, but his play is mostly just average. Safeties Andrew Adams and Jordan Whitehead are the definition of average as well. At linebacker, Lavonte David is still a high quality player. However, Devante Bond and Riley Bullough are big liabilities in the middle.
There’s little in Tampa’s middle and secondary to be excited about. On paper, the Falcons win this match up handily.
Once again, this game will be determined in the trenches. The only way the Bucs are going to stop Atlanta is if their defensive front can dominate, which is a distinct possibility. The Falcons offensive line needs to continue to play well for this offense to function properly. If they do, it could be a long afternoon for Tampa Bay.