Week 5 is here, as the Atlanta Falcons managed to put together their first-ever winning streak under the Arthur Smith/Terry Fontenot regime with a hard-fought victory over the Cleveland Browns last week. Atlanta is heading on the road to face a familiar NFC South foe in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Falcons are currently 10-point underdogs against the Bucs according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you all incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Bucs, so I’ve enlisted the help of a Tampa expert: Gil Arcia. Gil is the managing editor over at Bucs Nation, SB Nation’s site covering all things Buccaneers.
I brought five questions to Gil to try to get a better read on how the Bucs have looked over the first quarter of the season, including an update on the new-look offensive line and the team’s early struggles with injuries. Read on for Gil’s answers.
Q1. The big story in the offseason, outside of Tom Brady’s “retirement”, has been all the turnover on Tampa Bay’s offensive line. Retirements, injuries, and free agency all took their toll, forcing the Bucs to start three new faces: rookie Luke Goedeke at left guard, Robert Hainsey at center, and veteran Shaq Mason at right guard. How has the new-look offensive line fared through the first four weeks?
Gil Arcia: Well, it hasn’t been good. Perhaps maybe not even average. The unit hasn’t played well together and its evident in a struggling run game and missed assignments in front of Brady. The injury to left tackle Donovan Smith was also an issue as his absence was also very noticeable. But things didn’t get better when his backup Josh Wells was lost to injury as well. Brady’s ability to get the ball out quickly makes a difference in the passing game. If it weren’t for that, I think there would be many more sacks. On the plus side, Mason has done well and right tackle Tristan Wirfs has also played as well as he has since entering the league. It’s just the overall picture isn’t as great as it was just a season ago.
Q2. The Bucs have dealt with a lot of injuries (and a brief suspension) at wide receiver, which has certainly contributed to a disappointing start offensively. With Mike Evans back from suspension and Chris Godwin and Julio Jones back on the field, do you expect a big day from the passing game against an inconsistent Falcons defense?
Gil: It seems like the offense got things going last week against Kansas City. But I’m not going to say that they have finally found their rhythm. Tampa Bay has struggled mightily offensively through the first 13 quarters of the season that were followed by three quarters that had some offensive production heading into this week. Is that enough though to be confident that success for that unit will continue? The return of their top receivers certainly helps. They just need the running game to go with it or they will be one-dimensional. For me, until there is consistency, I’d have to wonder why Atlanta wouldn’t have some kind of success defensively. And part of that is because of the struggles along the offensive line.
Q3. While the offense has struggled outside of a 31-point effort against the Chiefs in Week 4, the defense has continued to be one of the NFL’s best. Tampa Bay is currently fifth in scoring defense and 8th in total yardage despite allowing 41 points to Kansas City last week. Are there any concerns that the cracks shown by the Chiefs could be exploited by Atlanta, and what have the keys been to Tampa Bay’s defensive success so far?
Gil: The thing about it is that the Buccaneers have often struggled in the middle of the defense against the pass. Linebacker Devin White — while he is a phenomonal playmaker — has struggled at times in pass coverage and opponents seem to find vacancies in the middle left between he and fellow linebacker Lavonte David. That can also be attributed to the fact in Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme, edge rushers also tend to drop back in coverage which also exposes potential vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities — again, in the second level — were exploited by Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. I mean, look back to last season with some of the catches Atlanta’s own Kyle Pitts had against the Buccaneers. It’s the same kind of attack that if it can be done consistently and the Buccaneers don’t adjust, opposing offenses can move the ball up and down the field on them. Interestingly enough, the same scheme has contributed to many stops and headaches for the opposition especially in the secondary and from those two previously name linebackers. It’s a Catch-22 if the Bucs play their “real” game of applying pressure constantly offenses don’t have answers for it. When Tampa Bay plays soft they are easily exposed. Tampa Bay tried the former against the Chiefs, but Mahomes is just too good and got out of so many sacks on third down that would have ended Kansas City drives.
Q4. The Falcons have gotten out to a hot start on offense, particularly on the ground. After finishing 31st in rushing yardage in 2021, Atlanta has put up 200+ yards on the ground in two of their first four games and are currently fourth in rushing offense heading into Week 5. Meanwhile, the Bucs defense, one of the NFL’s premier run defending units last year, has been fairly average so far this season. Are there any concerns about the ability to stop the run against the Falcons?
Gil: There should be, even if the Falcons won’t have Patterson. The thing is Vita Vea is seeing double teams with no one else making up for it in the inside. Ndamukong Suh played off of that well playing next to Vea as well as the other way around. Newcomer Akiem Hicks was supposed to be that guy in a way but has been out due to injury. And right now it doesn’t seem to be that anyone else can help. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, White and David are very good hitting those gaps if their number is called to rush. While that has made up for it some, it’s not enough especially when their rushes are picked up.
Q5. Despite Atlanta’s 2-2 start and the fact that they’ve kept all four games within four points thus far, the betting markets and the media as a whole don’t give the Falcons much of a chance in this one. Atlanta was a 9.5-point road underdog to the Bucs last time I checked. What’s your prediction for the game, and do you have any fear at all for a possible Falcons upset?
Gil: I most definitely think Atlanta has a chance to upset Tampa Bay. Will it happen though? I’m not sure. If the offense doesn’t find their rhythm early then the Falcons will be in it. Look at what happened with the Bucs in New Orleans. If it weren’t for some turnovers late in the game the Saints could have definitely won that game. I think the point spread is overblown. Want to give the Buccaneers an edge, sure, but maybe say within a touchdown or “five” points. But as I keep stressing the offense cannot keep shooting themselves in the foot or they will look at 0-3 at home after this weekend.
Many thanks to Gil Arcia for taking the time to answer my questions. Give him a follow at @GilArciaBUCS on Twitter. If you’re in the mood for a Bucs perspective on things, follow Bucs Nation at @Bucs_Nation.
If you’d like to see my answers to Gil’s questions, you can find that story right here.