The Falcons are coming off a great defensive effort against the Jaguars that resulted in a 21-14 road win, with the help of the rushing attack — Cordarrelle Patterson and the offensive line together. In fact, it was the best the run game has looked since the season opener against the Eagles. Atlanta totaled 149 rush yards — 108 coming from Patterson alone — against Jacksonville and forced two Jaguars turnovers. The Falcons looked competent in all three phases of the game, even if the passing game struggled yet again.
Atlanta will open their December schedule with the division-leading and Super Bowl-favorite Buccaneers at home, where they’ve lost four of five games this season. The Falcons’ lack of home-field advantage may have something to do with Arthur Blank’s obsession with the PSLs, which prices out the most dedicated of fans. On Sunday, you’re likely to see just as many empty seats and Bucs fans in the lower bowl as Red and Black faithful; however, it isn’t like Tampa needs any advantages to smack the Falcons around.
Tom Brady and the Bucs are also coming off a road win but beating a much more impressive opponent in the red-hot Colts. Leonard Fournette led the Tampa Bay offense with four total touchdowns and 131 total yards, but Todd Bowles unit held up their end of the bargain, forcing five turnovers and three sacks. The defending Super Bowl champions don’t have many weaknesses; in fact, the Falcons have fewer strengths than their rivals have weaknesses. There aren’t many places on the field Atlanta will have an advantage over Tampa Bay.
That won’t stop me from finding those few areas, though. You don’t have to look at position groups as a whole because the Bucs are the superior team at every single one; however, if you look at individual matchups, the Falcons have a couple of places they can take advantage of. Starting in the trenches, Grady Jarrett will be better than 90% of the interior linemen he faces. Well, Tampa has one of the best offensive lines in football.
The Donovan Smith-Ali Marpet-Ryan Jensen-Alex Cappa-Tristen Wirfs combination doesn’t have many weaknesses, but Marpet missed the Colts game after suffering an injury in the game against the Giants. Aaron Stinnie filled in for him against Indianapolis, but he went down with a knee injury early against the Colts. Bruce Arians said on Monday that he doesn’t expect Stinnie to play at all, while Marpet has been limited in practice all week. If neither can go, Jarrett should line up over the left guard all day and make said player’s life hell.
Sticking on the defensive side of the ball, A.J. Terrell can handle any of the Bucs’ wideouts. It seems simple enough just to roll coverage to help the other Falcons defenders, but sometimes it isn’t. Dean Pees will be hard-pressed to contain this high-powered offense, but having Terrell locking down one side of the field is a start.
Offensively, the Falcons might not have a single advantage outside of Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts. Defenses have stifled the rookie’s production as of late, holding him in check since his coming-out-party performance against the Dolphins several weeks ago. Still, that won’t stop Arthur Smith from scheming his entire game plan around these two individuals. If Patterson can get one-on-one coverage from either Devin White or Lavonte David, that should be considered an advantage even if David is one of the best cover linebackers in football. The Bucs have a depleted secondary as they wait on injured players to return, but Pitts should see a heavy dose of bracket and other combo coverages. Using bunch sets, rub routes, and other man-beaters, the Falcons could spring Pitts loose.
Executing on these few advantages is an entirely different thing, though. The Falcons will be hard-pressed to pull off this upset, so my advice to fans is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.