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Falcons defense vs. Buccaneers offense: Can Atlanta even force a punt?

This one feels hopeless, but is it truly?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons really wanted to start the season strong against an opponent that finished 2020 just as poorly as they did. Yet, the arguably did the exact opposite, frustrating fans and making everyone second guess any optimism they had for the season. They can restore some hope with a positive showing against Tampa Bay, but is it in the cards? Let’s take a look at how our defense matches up with their offense.

In the trenches

This will come as no shock, but the Buccaneers have a very good offensive line. Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs make a formidable pairing on the outside. Maybe not the absolute best in the league, but they’re in the conversation. The interior is just as stout with Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa holding down the guard spots and Ryan Jensen doing well enough at center. Jensen may be the weakest link on the line, so there is some hope for Atlanta even if it’s a dimming light in a large, dark room. He’s still solid.

Grady Jarrett did not have a great first game, but this may be his opportunity to bounce back. He’s going to need some help, though. Jonathan Bullard played pretty well last week and could help from the inside. The outside pass rush is really concerning which I know is a big surprise to Atlanta fans. Dante Fowler was invisible last week and the only sack came from a hustle play by Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.

This isn’t hard to predict. Bucs win handily unless several other guys not named Grady Jarrett finally step up in a big, big way.

Advantage: Bucs

The skill positions

Tampa Bay has one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one who - at age 44 - clearly sold his soul to dark forces in exchange for extended youth. May the eternal price be worth it to Tom Brady.

He has a ridiculous amount of talent to throw to. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were already a formidable duo at WR and then they added Antonio Brown for the hell of it. This unit is ridiculous. Then they added perennial party-boy Rob Gronkowski into the mix to pair with former first round tight end O.J. Howard, who admittedly has not lived up to the billing. Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette make for a potent duo out of the backfield.

Atlanta isn’t completely hopeless here, as A.J. Terrell is a promising young corner and Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun can still be a very good duo as inside linebackers. Fabian Moreau is a decent enough corner on the outside and Isaiah Oliver is a solid tackler, which is a damning way to praise a cornerback but is important when you have so much talent to tackle. Safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are serviceable.

Okay, so this matchup may be even worse than in the trenches. No, it’s much worse. We literally need every single guy on this side of the field to improve dramatically in under a week. On paper, this matchup looks very, very lopsided.

Advantage: Bucs

Overall

I’m not going to draw this out. Predicting a 40-burger seems optimistic - if you’re a Falcons fan. Tom Brady may run up the score just because he is the biggest troll and it’s the evil that his compromised, burning soul loves to feed on. If I sound pessimistic, it’s because I am.

Tampa Bay will likely have their way with this defense. If they don’t, it may be a sign of the end times, but at least it would be a pleasant one.

Advantage: Bucs