The Falcons have won back to back games after a gritty performance against the Cleveland Browns. What has to be appreciated about that game is that the offensive line put on a clinic up front in the second half, clearly dominating the line of scrimmage while players like Caleb Huntley, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson reaped the benefits and ran decisively. The trio massed multiple explosive runs and finished them with authority.
While that’s something to feel confident about, there are a few factors that must be taken into consideration. The Browns were without three starters up front, and most importantly, Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes the entire game. It’s certainly great that Coach Arthur Smith adjusted in the second half and pounded the rock, essentially taking the ball out of Mariota’s hands and finding a way forward that worked. However, this will not work against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The offense will have to be productive and creative in every facet in order to keep pace with the Tom Brady led Buccaneers. How do they stack up against this Buccaneers defense?
In the trenches
While not as daunting as they were previously when Ndamukung Suh was on the roster, this is still a very good Buccaneers front. Vita Vea is still the anchor at nose tackle, they added veteran Akiem Hicks this offseason, and Shaq Barrett is still a terror off the edge. While they’re an older group at this point, they’re still playing good football.
Coach Smith has put himself in an advantageous position moving forward in the season. He’s slowly but surely showing that the Falcons offense can be a physical and bruising team that will impose their will with the running game. Drew Dalman, while he still needs to work on his occasional issues snapping the ball, is beginning to gain his footing as the Falcons current and future center. Chris Lindstrom is proving to be one of the best in the league at right guard, and Elijah Wilkinson is looking serviceable at left guard, which is a big upgrade.
While the edge in the trenches is going to the Buccaneers due to experience, I’m more than encouraged by what I’m seeing up front for the Falcons.
The skill positions
The Buccaneers have lots of talent and speed on the back end, which is certainly a requirement for Head Coach Todd Bowles. The inside linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White are certainly up there amongst the fastest and most athletic in the league. Their versatility and sideline to sideline ability are to be noted, and Coach Bowles loves to use his off ball linebackers in blitz packages as White already has 3 sacks on the season.
If the Buccaneers have any weakness on the defense, it would be on the back end. However, they still have some very solid pieces there in Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield, Jr.
For the Falcons, things look a bit different now with dynamic playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson on injured reserve after a minor knee procedure. While that’s a tough loss, the Falcons still have plenty of weapons on the outside and in the backfield. I expect to see more touches for players like Avery Williams, Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley in the backfield, and all of them did well last Sunday.
Offseason free agent acquisition Damien Williams should also be very close to a return, as well. Let’s not forget the unicorn Kyle Pitts and rookie Drake London. I feel confident about the list of weapons the Falcons have on offense. The only issue is actual execution in getting them the football for current starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Because this is a divisional match up, it can be expected that this game will be highly competitive. Considering how Coach Smith has made it a point for the offense to show the willingness to be physical and impose their will up front, this is a prime opportunity for he and this offense to really come out of the gates firing. Using play action effectively and attacking this Bucs secondary should be the way to go to put points on the board early.
I fully expect Coach Smith to have that mentality going into Tampa this coming Sunday, but the real question is if Marcus Mariota will be able to execute said plan. I preached balance last week, and I’m doing it more so this week. While the adjustment by Coach Smith in the running game was able to function against a team like the Browns, this offense will have to be productive in the air to have a shot in Tampa, and that comes down to Mariota and his pass catchers.