The Atlanta Falcons have clawed their way back to .500 with a tough game against the New York Jets, but face a critical rematch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14. Whoever wins this game will be in the driver’s seat for control of the NFC South over the final four games.
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 Evan Wanish. Evan is a writer over at Bucs Nation, SB Nation’s site covering all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I brought five questions to Evan on a variety of topics, including the lengthy injury report for the Bucs, Tampa Bay’s issues during their recent losing streak, and the ability of their defense to match up with Bijan Robinson.
1) The Bucs are banged up heading into this game. What’s your level of concern for the status of Vita Vea, Devin White, and Jamel Dean and how that could affect Sunday’s game?
Evan Wanish: When looking at the injury report and knowing what type of team the Bucs are facing this week, I am definitely the most concerned with Vita Vea potentially missing this game. Both Devin White and Jamel Dean have had their struggles this season and Tampa Bay is certainly a worse defense without them but being without Vea against a Falcons team that loves to run the football and is really good at it does concern me.
We will see if Vea is able to suit up and play on Sunday. If he can’t, the Bucs will have to find other ways to slow down this Falcons rushing attack.
2) Since these two teams last met back in Week 7, the Bucs have been in a bit of a tailspin. What’s gone wrong for Tampa Bay on both sides of the ball after an encouraging start to the season?
EW: To be honest it has been a combination of playing better opponents and also just not playing as well as they did in the first four games. Since that Atlanta game in week 7, they have lost to Buffalo, Houston, San Francisco and Indianapolis. All of those teams could be destined for the playoffs and the Niners may very well be the best team in the league. The other factor is just simple execution. Baker Mayfield’s turnovers have become more of an issue but I think the biggest concern is the regression of the defense. They have not been the same unit since the bye week and if the Bucs want any shot at making the playoffs, that unit needs to turn things around quickly.
3) Tampa Bay didn’t have to face Bijan Robinson the last two times these teams played, and Atlanta’s run game—while still inconsistent—has started to find itself by making Bijan the focal point. The Bucs have held up well against the run over the course of the season, but are fresh off allowing a big game to Chuba Hubbard and the Panthers. How big of an issue could Atlanta’s rushing attack present on Sunday?
EW: They could present a pretty sizable issue for Tampa Bay especially if Vita Vea can’t go. It appears that Lavonte David is likely to return this week after missing the last 2 games which is great news for the Bucs defense. However, this Falcons team has consistently presented problems for the Bucs on the ground. Atlanta has had at least 100 yards rushing as a team in the last four contests against Todd Bowles’ unit. I’m not sure I expect that to change on Sunday with or without Vita Vea in the middle.
4) The Falcons haven’t exactly produced stellar numbers in the passing game, but the Bucs have been very vulnerable through the air. Where should Atlanta look to attack Tampa Bay’s secondary, and is this a potential path to success for the Falcons?
EW: When attacking Tampa’s secondary it is all about quickness and rhythm. The Bucs play a lot of zone (a lot more zone than they should) so the 6,7,8 yard completions will be there for the taking. Get the ball out of Ridder’s hands quick and let the playmakers like Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Cordarrelle Patterson do their thing. Being able to throw early in order to get into second and short situations would make for a long day for the Bucs defense.
5) The Falcons are the narrowest of favorites heading into Week 14, currently holding just a 1.5-point edge at the time of writing. What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
EW: Man, this is a tough one. This is the biggest game of the season for the Bucs and possibly the Falcons as well. You would think the Bucs would rise to the occasion and not get swept by Atlanta, but there’s been a few times this season when the Bucs should’ve or could’ve won but didn’t. I don’t know which version of either team shows up on Sunday and also am not sure who exactly will be available for both sides. I have a hard time seeing the Bucs be swept by the Falcons so give me Tampa Bay in a low scoring 17-13 game.
Many thanks to Evan for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re in the mood for a Bucs perspective on things, you can follow Bucs Nation at @Bucs_Nation.
Looking for more Falcons-Bucs coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show.