The Buccaneers are feeling confident. They may not come out and say it, but this is a team with a lot going for it coming into a game against a team that struggled to stay awake on the field last time out. Buccaneers fans are obviously feeling that same kind of confidence, and hey, with good reason.
I posed five questions to James Yarcho at Bucs Nation about Tom Brady, this team’s tough defensive front, the season-long outlook and more. Yarcho gave an honest appraisal of his team that isn’t encouraging for Falcons fans—then again, what has been this week?—but does say he doesn’t think Atlanta will finish last in the division. Check out our Q&A below to get Yarcho’s insights into his favorite team, as we all brace for the game ahead.
Dave Choate: Obviously, what Tom Brady has been and is doing is unprecedented. What’s your outlook for him in 2021, and how confident are you that he’ll continue to play well and stay healthy at age 44?
James Yarcho: I don’t think there’s any reason to not be confident. For the last decade we’ve seen pundits discuss if that was the year that we would see the drop off from Brady. Granted, we’re just one game in, but having seen what he did during training camp and week one against the Cowboys things appear to be as good as they ever were for Brady as far as his ability to play this game at a high level.
I don’t think he was kidding when he said he could play until he was 50 years old. The way he takes care of his body and stays at a commendable level of health, Brady not only looks like he’s ten years younger than he is but he plays like it, too.
Dave Choate: On paper, the Falcons offensive line versus this Buccaneers defensive front is a nightmare matchup, especially after the Eagles killed the Falcons last week. Are there any reasons for optimism for Falcons fans, or at least tips on how to slow down Vita Vea?
James Yarcho: I don’t think there is, if we’re being completely honest. If Vita Vea had been healthy all season the last two years, we would be talking about him as the best nose tackle in the NFL. Instead, many still act surprised at what he is able to do against opposing offensive lines. You have to dedicate two players to him on every snap and if you don’t, he will toss the opposing lineman around like a child with a stuffed animal - just like we saw in week one.
That’s what makes Vea so vital to what the Buccaneers want to do defensively. The way he can clog up the middle of the line frees up Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul on the outside, but it also opens blitzing lanes for Devin White and Lavonte David. When you add Ndamukong Suh into the mix, you’re talking about two players that eat up four blockers, allowing the Bucs’ pass rush to get to the quarterback and force him to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to or get sacked. It’s a “pick your poison” situation. You can slow Vea down with multiple blockers, leaving yourself susceptible to other pass rushers or you can try to block him one-on-one and end up with an offensive lineman in the lap of your quarterback.
Dave Choate: Dak Prescott did a pretty good job carving up the Buccaneers secondary. Is that just Prescott being excellent or is there a level of concern with the back end of this Buccaneers defense? How do you expect them to handle Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley, in particular?
James Yarcho: A lot of credit needs to be given to Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for the game plan he put together. The quick passes on short to intermediate routes helped Prescott immensely. They were able to neutralize the pass rush and take advantage of a secondary that was missing two starters - safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting following his elbow injury.
The big concern for the Bucs this week is that Murphy-Bunting is out and their top cornerback Carlton Davis is now questionable. If the Bucs have to rely on Jamel Dean to cover Calvin Ridley all day, this could become a shootout very quickly. As for Pitts, there is absolutely no question what a phenomenal talent he is. However, I get the feeling we’ll see a lot of Lavonte David covering him much like how we saw David shut down Travis Kelce in the Super Bowl. Pitts will certainly get targets, but it’s a matter of whether or not he does anything with them.
The Falcons offense has the potential to look better this week than they did against the Eagles, but Matt Ryan didn’t seem to be overly comfortable with the offense following those first couple of drives. Ridley is a top four receiver in the division and will create plays throughout the game. However, if the Bucs’ pass rush is getting home, the secondary will look much better than they did against the Cowboys and they’ll have ample opportunity for takeaways.
Dave Choate: Is this a truly two-headed backfield going forward with Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, or do you expect Fournette to have more of a lead role? Also, should the Falcons be afraid of what these guys bring to the table after a lackluster week on the ground in Week 1?
It’s definitely a two-headed backfield. Ronald Jones will get the start on Sunday but each player will get their share of touches. Last season, Bruce Arians rode the hot hand. Most of the time that was RoJo, but we saw a few games sprinkled in throughout the regular season where Fournette was “the guy” - and of course in the postseason he morphed into “playoff Lenny” and was dominant throughout their run. If RoJo fumbles early that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be relegated to the bench for the rest of the game like he was in week one. We saw a few occasions where Jones had a turnover and Arians sent him right back onto the field for some redemption.
It’s all going to boil down to the situation and which player seems to be more efficient against the Falcons’ front seven. I would expect Jones to get the bulk of the carries early on, while Fournette would become the late game battering ram against a tired defense.
Dave Choate: I’m going to assume I know your answer to some extent here, but what are your expectations for this Buccaneers season? Can Tampa Bay repeat as Super Bowl champions? Less importantly but relevant to my Sunday, what’s the score of this game?
James Yarcho: They are one of the top three or four teams when you look at serious Super Bowl contenders. Now, three-quarters of the way through last season there weren’t many people saying that, so things can obviously change in a hurry. They have the talent, coaching, and chemistry to go back-to-back, but that’s a very tall task in the NFL.
It’s been nearly twenty years since the last time it happened, but you have to think that all these players that could have left decided to take team-friendly deals in order to try and go for a second title, so that’s where their focus is. They know what it takes and what they need to do to reach that pinnacle, now it’s all about execution. As long as the injuries don’t continue to pile up, there aren’t too many teams that can do toe-to-toe with this Bucs roster in terms of talent or experience.
As for Sunday’s game, I think this one is a little more one-sided than what we’ll see later on in the season. The Falcons have some major questions along their offensive line and while the team continues to try and get comfortable with new schemes, there will be some growing pains. I think the Falcons could get hot a little later and I certainly don’t believe this team finishes last in the NFC South again, but this week is not when it starts.
The Bucs have the opportunity to become the first team in NFL history to win nine straight games while scoring over 30 points in each victory and I predict they do exactly that. Bucs win 34-13.
For more Buccaneers insights from Bucs Nation, check out David Walker’s interview with Trey Downey from earlier this week.