The Falcons may be 3-7, but they are arguably one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Two straight road wins against division opponents has people wondering where this team has been all year. In particular, the defense has been a revelation, snagging 11 sacks and 4 interceptions in the past 2 games. Can they keep this trend going against the Bucs on Sunday? Read on to find out.
In the trenches
Don’t look now, but the Falcons defensive front is suddenly playing like a dominant unit. For a unit that was awful in the first half of the year, they’ve been dynamite in the last two games. Grady Jarrett is the star here, but it’s the recent play of guys like Adrian Clayborn, Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley that really stands out. Those guys are finally winning and doing it consistently. Even Allen Bailey has gotten in on the action. This matchup will depend on whether these guys keep this high level of play up, but after 2 straight dominant games, it may be time to give them a nod.
For the Bucs, their offensive line is capable. Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson are decent bookend tackles while Ali Marpet is a pretty good starter on the interior. Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa are the weak links on this line, so look for the Falcons to try and generate pressure up the middle. This is not a dominant line and certainly doesn’t compare to the arguably top-5 unit the Saints fielded two weeks ago.
I don’t want to give the Falcons defense a pass for the first half of the year just yet. They’ve earned enough over the past two week for us to believe they may have turned the corner. For now, though, we should remain skeptical if not slightly optimistic. Based on that, I’m hoping for another whooping, but not getting to the QB at all also seems like a distinct possibility.
The skill positions
Jameis Winston is an enigma. He’s been brilliant and disastrous all season long. He has a whopping 18 interceptions (against 19 TDs) and has also fumbled the ball 11 times. If the Falcons can get to him, there’s every reason to believe they can force him into turnovers. However, Winston has some great weapons. Mike Evans is one of the best receivers in the league and Chris Godwin may be one of the most under-appreciated receivers in the league. Breshad Perriman and O.J. Howard are a significant drop-off after those two and Cameron Brate is a decent if not exactly dominant receiving option. The Bucs running game is anchored by Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber. They’re an effective duo, with Tampa netting 5 games with over 100 yards rushing this year.
The Falcons secondary has arguably seen the biggest turnaround of any unit this year. Moving Raheem Morris back to coach the secondary has apparently made a huge difference as guys like Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee have all played far better since the bye week. The four interceptions last week may have been more about Kyle Allen than anything, but these guys are also making fantastic plays as well. At linebacker, Deion Jones is still playing well while De’Vondre Campbell and Foye Oluokun have both played far better since the bye. This is a unit that has impressed the past two weeks, but the first half skepticism still remains.
I really want to believe in this Falcons defense and the past two games is making that easier. Yet, I can’t ignore the previous 8 games and that has to play a factor here. Jameis Winston is a turnover prone QB and an ideal opportunity for the Atlanta defense to keep rolling. Until they do it, though, I think a healthy does of skepticism is reasonable, especially given Winston’s strong history against Atlanta.