The Falcons opened the 2021 season at home against the Eagles, where they were dismantled in every facet of the game. Atlanta’s first chapter under the new regime of Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot didn’t begin the way the two men hoped, but in the face of adversity, we will find out what they’re all about.
They won’t have to wait long to prove themselves as the Week 2 matchup against the Buccaneers is fast approaching. Tampa Bay’s offense looked as explosive and balanced as ever, while Tom Brady seems to be aging in reverse. The roster is loaded in the trenches, with not only high-end starters but valuable rotational pieces as well. There will be plenty to improve upon, but here are five (or more) specific Falcons to watch:
OLBs: Steven Means/Dante Fowler
Both edge defenders played horrid against Philadelphia. Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata easily handled both Falcons in the run game and pass sets. Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith are arguably a better tackle duo that will dominate the Falcons edge duo if there aren’t any changes in approach. They were bullied defending the run and stonewalled rushing the passer; I would be surprised if they didn’t bring a little extra fire in Week 2 after being embarrassed in Week 1.
LG: Jalen Mayfield/Drew Dalman/Other
Whoever starts at left guard will have to face the likes of William Gholston, Ndamukong Suh, and Vita Vea, depending on the situation and alignment of the Tampa defensive front. I fully expect equal results against the Bucs as the Eagles if Mayfield starts, unless Atlanta can stay ahead of the chains and keep Todd Bowles‘ aggressive defense on its heels.
Struggling OL: Kaleb McGary/Matt Hennessy
McGary and Hennesy weren’t as bad as Mayfield, but they were both completely overmatched in pass sets. They were formidable in run-blocking situations, but that won’t cut it against Tampa’s defensive line. They’ll need to be much better than they were in Week 1 if the Falcons are to have any chance at upsetting the reigning Super Bowl champions.
CBs not named A.J. Terrell: Fabian Moreau/Isaiah Oliver
A.J. Terrell looked pretty good against DeVonta Smith and the Eagles’ receiving core, but the Bucs are a different story. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown are as good as any trio in the league. Terrell will hold his own, but Moreau and Oliver will be tested. The Falcons cornerbacks will have to hold up in coverage long enough for the pass rush to get home. The problem with that is Tom Brady’s ability to get rid of the ball faster than he ever has before.