Here we are approaching the final game of the season for the Falcons as they prepare to host the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Sunday’s matchup, there will be no more NFL football played in Atlanta this season.
Anyway, back to the game. Back when these teams played on October 9th, the Falcons offense struggled to get going early. Meanwhile, the defense did what it could to keep the game close, holding Tampa’s offense to 13 first-half points, including a 4th down stop and a field goal inside the 4-yard line.
The offense eventually got going, but it was too little, too late. While the offense seemed in line to get one more opportunity to tie or take the lead, the fate of the Falcons was decided on a...rough...decision. (I still don’t know why in the world that was called. I don’t think anyone does).
Fast forward to January 8th, and the Falcons are looking to end the season with two games in the win column after defeating the Cardinals at the buzzer. Both teams have different feels to them compared to the first matchup, and we’ll go into it from the offensive perspective at the line of scrimmage.
When the dust cleared, the Falcons outrushed the Bucs 151-69. Expect more of the same this week.
The past few weeks, Tampa Bay has been up and down against the run. While they played well against the run last week (allowed 74 rushing yards on 22 attempts in their win against Carolina), they gave up 121 yards with a 4.5 average against Arizona the week before and 209 on a 5.8 average two weeks before that in San Francisco. The latter game is the turning point to me, as that’s when star nose guard Vita Vea first went out with a calf injury on the first drive. It appears that the calf is flaring up again, and he will miss the final game of the regular season.
Vea can be a disruptive force in many ways. Having a dominant nose guard against a zone running team can almost take away the middle of the line of scrimmage entirely at times. First off, they can force offensive linemen to stay on their “doubles,” meaning that whoever is supposed to get to the next level of the linebackers can’t do so. Especially when you have linebackers who flow as well and as fast as Tampa Bay’s can, this is critical. For nose guards who aren’t as effective, this is where you see the defensive holding calls come into play at the line of scrimmage.
In most cases, defensive linemen, especially interior, understand that one of their biggest responsibilities on run plays is to keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers. Because so many schemes, especially zone schemes, rely on linemen getting to the next level for success, defensive linemen will sometimes hold offensive linemen to allow linebackers to flow freely and make the play. Vea is quick and strong enough to where he doesn’t have to hold to occupy two linemen.
Also, dominant nose guards can really affect the passing game. The biggest and most obvious way is to collapse the pocket. While I know there have been many criticisms from fans about Drew Dalman’s play, the one place I’ve noticed he can struggle is if he gets overpowered. Big nose tackles who can get a big bull rush collapse the pocket, not allowing the quarterback to step into a throw. Remember the interception Justin Fields threw against the Falcons to close the game?
Ball HAWK— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 20, 2022
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Take a look at what Jalen Dalton does to the guard. Fields doesn’t feel like he has a place to step into the throw and drive the ball, so it sails on him a bit, leading to the Hawkins interception. I’d argue that having someone who can push the pocket like that is just as valuable as all the edge rushers you see getting paid. The main reason being that even with a great edge rusher, there are so many pockets for all of these mobile quarterbacks to run through to extend plays downfield or just take off on their own.
All parts of the pass rush have to be there to make it successful. Sometimes, it’s the player on the line of scrimmage that you don’t see who leads to a sack, and that’s the nose guard on many occasions.
Vita Vea being out could be massive in this game. The Falcons will once again rely on their dominant run game to make things easier for Desmond Ridder, as they should. However, in obvious pass situations, I don’t expect there to be much pressure right in front of his face, at least not from a big defensive lineman. Tampa Bay blitzes just under 28% of the time, which is good for 10th most in the league, but I’d expect the Falcons gameplan to continue to allow Ridder to get the ball out of his hands relatively quickly. Even though Tampa Bay is coming off their best offensive performance, I’m looking at the Falcons and their rushing attack to keep them off the field as much as possible. Hard to stay in rhythm when you aren’t on the field much.
Oh, and let’s give Tom Brady his first ever losing season. It won’t make up for previous, uh, well...you know what I’m talking about...but it sure will feel good.
Seeing how this is the final game of the season, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read any of the Talkin’ Trenches articles this year! Given that this is my first time writing, I was very excited to talk with all of you about a part of the game that I thoroughly enjoy. Here’s to the Falcons closing this season out with a win (again, miss me with tank talk), and I’ll see you all in the offseason!
And once again, no way in the world was that roughing the passer on Grady Jarrett.