The last two weeks were tough matchups on paper for the Falcons, and Atlanta put up 55 points and allowed just 12 en route to two straight wins. This week, they head home and will face their easiest matchup in a long time, with the lowly Buccaneers coming to town.
These two teams are heading in opposite directions. The Falcons have aggravatingly gotten it going too late to save their season and look like one hell of a spoiler the rest of the way, with the defense finally clicking and the offense showing enough life to keep them ahead. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have lost five of their last six games and just got blown out by the Saints 34-17 at home. They can be a dangerous team, but their vulnerability to quality passing attacks and their relentless desire to turn the ball over make them a particularly weak matchup for a hot Falcons team that is suddenly playing the brand of defense we’ve been hoping to see all year.
Let’s break down the matchup further.
Falcons - Buccaneers Side-by-Side
The Falcons are less bad than they were a week ago, but compared to the rest of the NFL, they still stack up very poorly. The Buccaneers do as well, but somehow in even more confusing ways than our favorite team.
Atlanta - Tampa Bay Comparison
|Passing Yards Against
|Rushing Yardage Against
|Passing Yards Against
|Rushing Yardage Against
The Bucs have a great offense on paper, with one of the league’s best passing attacks, an efficient scoring group, and an improving ground attack. They also have one of the league’s stingiest run defenses and created plenty of turnovers. That should be enough to at least have them hanging around the fringes of the NFC’s playoff race, and yet it’s definitely not. Why?
There are two culprits. The first is Jameis Winston, who has thrown a frankly insane 18 interceptions on the season. For perspective’s sake, Philip Rivers is second on that list with 14 and Matt Ryan’s uncharacteristically pick-happy season (which has him tied for 7th in the NFL with Dak Prescott and Sam Darnold) has half that number. Winston has thrown 19 touchdowns and is tied for fourth in the league with that mark, but he cannot stop throwing backbreaking interceptions.
That might be a problem if the Buccaneers’ defense was truly stingy, but the reality is that teams are happy to pass on them because they cannot stop a damn thing through the air. The Bucs are allowing a full 39 more yards per game than the Falcons and have allowed five more passing touchdowns on the season, which is insane when you consider that the Falcons spent half the season actively not covering wide receivers in the end zone. Their secondary is an absolute wasteland that is going to take multiple offseason to fully fix.
Those two problems combine to ensure that no amount of progress on offense or defense or an upgrade to the coaching staff—and make no mistake, Bruce Arians is a far better coach than Dirk Koetter—can save Tampa Bay. Winston gives the ball back to offenses who simply air it out and score, and over the course of the game no amount of pretty passes from Winston to Evans or strong run defense is going to prevent this team from losing. There’s no quick fix in sight.
The Falcons, of course, aren’t much better more or less across the board and are a far less efficient scoring team in 2019. If they can keep up their current level of defensive play, though, they’re going to murder the Bucs. Failing to get turnovers against Tampa Bay will be a huge, huge problem, however.
How the Buccaneers have changed in 2019
They haven’t appreciably!
Tampa Bay’s eerie similarities to last year have not been cured by the addition of new coach Bruce Arians, one of the NFL’s more respected hires. Arians may well turn this franchise around, but it’s likely to come with a new general manager and it’s likely to take multiple seasons, because the root problems for this franchise remain the same.
A year ago, the Buccaneers had a top ten passing attack marred by gobs of turnovers and one of the league’s worst defenses. This year, they have a top ten passing attack marred by gobs of turnovers and one of the league’s worst passing defenses. They’ve improved their run defense a lot and are more effective running the ball, but they’re on pace to go something like 6-10 after going 5-11 a year ago. The truth is that there are just too many massive holes on this football team to fix in the short term.
Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean may be part of the next quality Bucs defense, but they’ve been little more than mild bright spots in a sea of ineptitude on that side of the ball. Vita Vea is a classic Mike Smith pick as a lane-clogging, run-stopping defensive tackle in a league that doesn’t prioritize those players anymore, and he was the team’s first round pick a year ago. The team just can’t seem to add impact players on defense, and their offense is being held back by one guy they didn’t change out, namely Jameis Winston. The offensive line in front of him isn’t good enough to help iron out his issues, either.
The Bucs need a teardown but they’re not ready to actually go through one just yet. We’ll see if that changes after yet another disappointing season.
What should you know about this game?
The Falcons haven’t had a more favorable matchup in weeks, which is probably why I’m feeling a little nervous about this one.
Atlanta’s likely to be without Devonta Freeman again and their ground game has been awful all year, but the Bucs have a stingy run defense and can’t stop anything through the air. That means the Falcons are well-positioned to take advantage of this defense if they actually want to, because their strengths play into Tampa Bay’s weaknesses so well. Dirk Koetter is bound to waste a bunch of plays on dumb early down runs up the middle, yes, but the Falcons aired it out just fine against Carolina a week ago and face a much weaker secondary this time out.
On the other side of the ball, Jameis WInston is not well-protected and throws a bunch of picks weekly. He’s tossed 18 interceptions and fumbled 11 times in 2019, absorbing 36 sacks along the way. If this defense flags a little from their past two weeks, they should still be able to take down Winston multiple times and enjoy a couple of gift-wrapped turnovers from the most error-prone quarterback in the sport. Mike Evans is dangerous and this offense is perfectly capable of putting up a ton of yards and points, but it’s also easy to imagine them digging a hole they can’t get back out of if the Falcons are merely competent all day.
Atlanta’s home, playing better football, and running up against a dispirited, listless Bucs team that seems to be getting sloppier by the week. Anything can happen in this dumb, crazy season, but if the Falcons play like they have the last two weeks this has the makings of an absolute blowout. Let’s hope they can manage it.