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Week 15 Preview: Falcons vs. Bucs

The Falcons return home to take on the playoff-minded Buccaneers

Las Vegas Raiders v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I mentioned on last week that the fourth quarter of the 2020 season will be a turbulent one for the Atlanta Falcons. That included last week’s showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers. As we saw, the Falcons are not immune to late game drama, as was the case as the Falcons came up short against the Chargers, 20-17.

Now a division foe comes to town with their focus on high alert at the moment and while they have been inconsistent for the most part of the season, the Tampa Bay Bucs have the talent to flip on the light switch and play to their immense potential. Another tough task for the Falcons awaits. Let’s dive into the matchup.

About their opponent

The Buccaneers find themselves squarely in the playoff picture despite having the cloak of inconsistency draped over them for a bit of the season. Last week, the Buccaneers had a scrappy 26-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. It was not that long ago that quarterback Tom Brady had a four game stretch where he tossed seven interceptions. Coincidentally, Tampa was 1-3 in those contests. Everyone knows that the Buccaneers will only go as far in the playoffs as Brady can take them.

Key matchups

Atlanta turnovers vs. Tampa Bay turnovers- Yes, you read the matchup correctly. I am taking a certain dive into the stats with this one simply because it has reared it’s ugly head for both teams this season in an horrid fashion. Last week, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had three interceptions with two of them coming late in the fourth quarter with the Falcons in Chargers territory. To take it a step further, the Falcons offense has recorded seven turnovers in their last four games. They’re going up against a Buccaneers defense that has forced a turnover in every game this season except their season opener.

I’ve also mentioned how turnovers has played a considerable part in Tampa’s execution on offense this season. In four of their five losses, Tampa Bay has had two or more giveaways on offense. The Falcons are shorthanded here. In order to stay in it and make it a four quarter game, they HAVE to win the turnover battle.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Falcons OC Dirk Koetter vs. Buccaneers DC Todd Bowles - The comfort level for this singular in-game matchup may not be a high level for most. Coming into this contest, the Buccaneers sport the seventh ranked defense in the NFL, the 11th best scoring defense, and the top ranked run defense in the league. They’re also fourth in the NFL in takeaways and seventh in yards per drive allowed. They are pretty good, folks.

So the Falcons enter this game handcuffed a bit because there will be no Julio Jones on the field. His presence alone keeps defenses on their heels. So with no Jones, likely double teams rolling towards Calvin Ridley, and a run game that has very little flavor, it is imperative that Koetter schemes this Falcons offense into productivity. Shorter, quicker routes, ball control play calling, passing concepts that attacks the aggressiveness of the Buccaneers defense. If Koetter is not able to win a few of these battles, it will likely be a very long afternoon for the Falcons.

Analytical outlook

While the defense has been the better unit, the Tampa Bay offense will pretty much dictate how far they go in the postseason. Of course, a large part of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Brady. As we saw in games against the Los Angeles Rams, the New Orleans Saints, and the Chicago Bears, when their offense is bogged down and unbalanced, it can really hinder things for the Buccaneers.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs are fifth in total offensive DVOA, sixth in passing DVOA, and 12th in rushing DVOA. They have a running back in Ronald Jones that is ninth in the league in success run rate at 55%, while receiver Chris Godwin is second in the NFL in catch rate at 81% and as a cherry on top, the offensive line is fourth in the league in sacks allowed. Bottom line, when the Buccaneers offense hits its stride, it’s an elite unit.

Final thought

The Falcons 2020 season is three weeks away from completion. It has been a long, grueling voyage that still has the Bucs twice and a road game next week against the defending Super Bowl champions, Kansas City Chiefs. Currently, the Falcons lead the all-time series between the two organizations, 28-25.

I’m sure every one remembers how their last matchup ended. As Deion Jones hustled across the goal line in overtime in week 17 of last season, it closed the chapter on the season and ended it in exciting fashion. Those type of plays will be needed (and more) in this one. This isn’t the same Buccaneers team from last season or past teams at that. The Falcons will have to tighten up the chin strap for this one, and even that might not be enough.