Week 18 is here, bringing with it the final game of the 2022 NFL season. The Atlanta Falcons were finally eliminated from playoff contention back in Week 17, but they still have a few things to play for. Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder’s development is the key story to monitor, along with some of the young players on offense and defense. Unfortunately, this weekend’s rematch with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has lost some of its luster, but there’s still pride and a chance for an elusive win over Tom Brady at stake.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Bucs, so I’ve once again enlisted the help of Tampa Bay expert Gil Arcia. Gil is the managing editor over at Bucs Nation, SB Nation’s site covering all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers..
I brought five questions to Gil asking about the likelihood of the Bucs playing their starters, why Tampa’s offense has remained stuck in the mud, and the chances of the defense to slow down Ridder and Atlanta’s top rushing attack.
Q1. There’s been plenty of speculation about whether or not the Bucs will play their starters, seeing as their playoff spot has been officially clinched. What do you think Tampa Bay will do in Week 18?
Gil Arcia: Per head coach Todd Bowles, it doesn’t appear like they will be sitting their starters. It seems like he’s concerned with there being several things that the team still has to iron out heading into the postseason and would like to work on some of those things this Sunday. However, at the same time he also noted that they haven’t decided on who will play and who will not. I suspect there to be a decent amount sitting this game out while others will come out early.
Q2. Since we last spoke in Week 5, the Bucs have still struggled to break out of the offensive funk that has plagued them all season. Week 17’s 30-point effort against the Panthers was certainly a step in the right direction, but it just seems as if this Tampa Bay offense has been stuck in the mud this year. What’s the cause of the offensive struggles in 2022?
Gil: It’s been a mix of a few things, with the majority in my opinion being on Tom Brady. His throws were charted this season by Pro Football Focus and he had the most off-target throws he’s ever had in his career this season and you can see that happening live.Then, he had the most percentage of throws before the first down marker and behind the line of scrimmage he’s ever had. Many have tried to put blame on the offensive line but even when he’s had time to throw his passes haven’t been as accurate as they were once before.
Now, none of that is to say the offensive line shouldn’t share blame. They’ve struggled in pass protection and have struggled in opening up holes in the run game. The playcalling has also been suspect more often than not, too. Plays called in the red zone have left many scratching their heads. Overall, it’s been a collection of things and this past Sunday against Carolina was the first game this season we’ve seen the offense play out like it has the previous two seasons behind Brady.
Q3. The Bucs have remained a good pass defense this season, but have been uncharacteristically shaky against the run at times. How concerned are you about Tampa’s ability to hold up against Atlanta’s elite ground game?
Gil: When the Buccaneers have had tackles Vita Vea and/or Akiem Hicks playing, it’s been hard to run against them — especially when they’ve been in the lineup together. So I wouldn’t say there’s a concern, but rather a question of what Tampa Bay will give Atlanta in terms of personnel on Sunday. As stated previously there is uncertainty on who will play and if they do for how long. If Vea and Hicks or one of the two are playing there is a good chance the Bucs will do fine against the run. If not, Atlanta will probably have an easy time running the football with their starters against the reserves of Tampa Bay.
Q4. Rookie Desmond Ridder will be making his fourth start in Week 18, and is coming off the best game of his career where he delivered a game-winning drive against the Cardinals. What are your thoughts on facing Ridder, and how confident are you in the pass defense heading into this matchup?
Gil: I think the Buccaneers will present some looks Ridder isn’t used to seeing. Bowles is notorious for how he disguises his defenses each game. Being a rookie, however, does present challenges in of itself for the fact that the Bucs are known for making young, inexperienced quarterbacks look like All-Pro signal callers. Just look at games against the 49ers, first matchup in Carolina, the game in Pittsburgh, and even recently against the Cardinals. While they weren’t blowouts, the defense struggled against their quarterbacks at times and allowed them to move the ball easily often. And against mobile quarterbacks much worse. With that said, I do expect Ridder to have some success but I also expect the Buccaneers defense to clamp down and give Ridder headaches when/if they can.
Q5. The lines still seem to be predicting that the Bucs will not play their starters for the whole game, as the Falcons are currently favored by 3 at home according to DraftKings. What’s your prediction for the last game of the season?
Gil: This is a weird one. I like Ridder’s chances in this game because I am a fan of seeing the younger guy succeed. But considering the Buccaneers may not start all of their starters and may pull those that do early, I think Atlanta will win this game being that Tampa Bay may not be willing to show all their cards for the playoffs and ensure they have a healthy starting 11 on each side of the ball for the postseason.
Many thanks to Gil Arcia for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him on Twitter at @GilArciaBUCS, and if you’re in the mood for a Bucs perspective on things, follow Bucs Nations at @Bucs_Nation.