It has been known that the Falcons defense is a work in progress. Many of us didn’t expect much considering that this group is incredibly young, and there is still roster turnover to come.
However, for the second straight week, it was the defense that closed the game out for the Falcons. I mentioned last week that the Falcons would have a uphill battle against the Browns due to their running game. While the Browns did run the ball well, the defense stepped up when needed and closed the game out. This defense is full of young and hungry players that don’t quit.
It’s certainly been entertaining to watch this group as a whole, but now they have to face the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers offense. While it’s apparent that age is catching up with Brady, he’s still arguably the best to ever do it. So, how do the Falcons match up against this offense?
In the trenches
The Buccaneers offensive has some good pieces in bookend tackles Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith. However, the loss of Ryan Jensen at center hurts this group as a whole.
Ryan Halnsey has taken over at the Center position, so there are bound to be some growing pains from a continuity standpoint up front for the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers also acquired Shaq Mason this past offseason. So while there are some new pieces up front for their offensive line, they’re still a solid group.
The Falcons have a young defensive unit as a whole, but they’re particularly young up front. Grady Jarrett is the clear leader of this group and has been on another level this season, amassing 3.5 sacks in 4 games, including one at the end of each of the last two games. While his stats haven’t been indicative of his performance, Ta’Quon Graham is also making a name for himself as a major player on the defensive line, as he absolutely terrorized Cleveland’s OL last week. If Graham stays the course, the numbers will certainly come.
Anthony Rush also had a much better game last week than he’s had previously, so hopefully he’s rounding into form. Due to experience, I’m giving the edge to the Buccaneers, but the arrow is pointing up for the Falcons’ line defensively.
The skill positions
The Buccaneers have some serious weapons on offense that are difficult to cover. Mike Evans is one of my favorite non-Falcons players in the league, and for good reason. Chris Godwin is also as good as they come for wideouts, and he has yet to have a big game this season. Add in TE Cameron Brate, RB Leornard Fournette, and good depth pieces like former Falcons Russell Gage, Jr. and Julio Jones, and the Buccaneers can attack you in multiple ways through the air and on the ground.
This Falcons defense, while so young in so many areas, have turned out to be an opportunistic bunch, especially on the back end. A.J. Terrell, after having a rocky start to the season, has looked like his normal All-Pro self as the group’s best cornerback as of late. Richie Grant is also looking the part of a very good safety as his play continues to improve.
While LB Mykal Walker arguably had his worst game as the defensive signal caller for the Falcons, he’s still showing that he’s an important part of this unit. However, there are so many weapons for the Falcons to account for on the back end. The back end of this defense will have to really show up, be aggressive and be the ballhawking team they have been to be competitive.
This is another very challenging match up for the Falcons. The Buccaneers can be physical up front and can torch Atlanta in the passing game if Brady has time to throw. This Buccaneers offense has struggled to start the season, which means they’re due a big game.
If the Falcons are to have a chance to contain this unit, a few things must happen. First, they must make sure they stop the run effectively. Allowing Leonard Fournette to be effective and gain some momentum as a runner will only make things difficult for them. Second, they must pressure Brady, preferably with their front four. The group of Lorenzo Carter, Grady Jarrett, TaQuon Graham and Arnold Ebiketie must be able to win some one-on-one matchups up front to pressure Brady and move him off his spot. If that doesn’t happen, Brady will likely have a good day against this defense.
I can ultimately see Coach Dean Pees scheming specific pressure packages against Brady and the Buccaneers offensive line to generate pressure without dedicating too many and overly exposing the back end of the defense. I would just like to remind everyone that despite the fact that the Falcons have worked their way back up to a 2-2 record, this is still a very young group going up against a very experienced Buccaneers team.