The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to face the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South match-up which will place one of the two 3-7 franchises in sole possession of last place in the division.
While the rivals have the same exact record, they’re very different teams entering Week 12. While the Buccaneers are coming off of their fifth loss in six games, the Falcons have been playing inspired football lately, winning two games in a row. More importantly, both wins came against divisional opponents with wins against the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
One of the sparks for the resurgence since coming out of their bye, has been safety, Ricardo Allen.
Dan Quinn says Ricardo Allen being down in the box more in the strong safety role may be a factor in the improved communication among the #Falcons defenders over the last two games.— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) November 18, 2019
The Bucs and Falcons know each other well, but they may not recognize Allen in his current role. So let’s get to know, Atlanta Falcons strong safety, Ricardo Allen.
RICARDO ALLEN’S HISTORY
Before Allen was playing strong safety during the Falcons’ two-game winning streak, he was playing as a free-safety. Before that, he was a fourth-round cornerback in the 2014 NFL Draft. Leading him there, was his four years at Purdue playing cornerback for the Boilermakers.
Coming out of college, Allen was regarded as a playmaker with solid ball skills, lacking the size needed to succeed at the NFL level.
In his first NFL season, Allen didn’t record any statistical data while spending time on both the practice squad and the active roster. In his second season, out of necessity more than anything, the Falcons moved him to safety where he not only made the active roster, he played in fifteen games and came up with three interceptions and 68 tackles.
Allen has been playing as a safety for the Falcons ever since and has come up with five interceptions over the past four seasons, including 2018 where he appeared in just three due to an achilles injury suffered in Week 3 of that season.
RICARDO ALLEN IN 2019
It took Allen just three seasons to make his mark on the Falcons franchise, and every year beginning with the 2017 season, he’s been one of the team’s Captains (or Chiefs).
His move over the last two games to becoming a box safety shows the team mentality he possesses, and explains why he’s been able to establish himself so well with teammates and coaches alike.
An AJC.com article credits Allen and linebacker Deion Jones for holding player-only meetings during the bye week to discuss the many areas they felt the defense as a whole needed to improve in.
“It was some stuff that goes out, and if you’re just going over plays all the time on the playbook or on the board, if it adds up on the board, sometimes it doesn’t add up like that in the game,” Allen said. “Sometimes, as players you have to go make a play by yourself. You have to go and put yourself on the line to maybe get yelled at or maybe be at fault with the play.”
Autonomous thinkers. This is what Allen and the leaders of the Falcons defense are trying to create. Guys who know the plan, but have the ability to react and adjust to the scenario as it unfolds.
The changes in mentality and in coaching staff (Raheem Morris was recently moved to help coach on the defensive staff instead of on offense) have all helped. But Allen was involved in the most glaring on-field change.
After seven games this year, the Falcons made the move to put Demontae Kazee back at safety after giving him a try as their nickel corner. Kazee is strongest playing the ball and in coverage, so this meant the team had to move Allen to make the move into the box as a strong safety.
Both men have responded. But what is it about Allen that makes him successful in the box? That’s what the Buccaneers will need to figure out, if they are going to stop the Falcons from ripping off three straight divisional wins, this weekend.
The very thing which has helped Allen go from fourth-round pick to team captain in three years is what’s helping his unit get better in the back half of the season. He’s willing and capable enough of getting into the box and helping stop opposing running attacks, but skilled as a cover safety as well.
He’ll bounce in and out of the box as well as line-up as a single-high safety in other packages. This mixture of looks the Falcons can get while covering multiple bases is an advantage Allen brings to the field, and one the Buccaneers offense will have to be prepared for as the initial look may not tell them as much as they’d like it to.
It goes without saying Allen is considered a leader on the defense. The ‘C’ on his chest says as much. But his leadership style jumps out on film. Regularly, No. 37 can be seen pointing, and calling adjustments as needed. Reminding his teammates of the little nuances in an NFL game which can make or break a team’s chances of winning.
What this means for the Bucs is they’ll have to understand what confidence and leadership can do for an opponent. This isn’t a Falcons defense likely to give up a string of big plays and then lay down for the beating. They’ll fight back, because guys like Allen won’t allow them to give up.
It’s obvious, but it’s significant. Allen lacks the desirable size you’d want in an NFL strong safety. If the Buccaneers can leverage this opening, it could force the Falcons defense to bring help to his area of the field, or replace him all together in favor of size in certain situations.
Run designs aimed at isolating the strong safety with a bruiser like Peyton Barber could work to their benefit. Atlanta’s defense has also shown a willingness to allow linebacker Deion Jones to cover running backs one-on-one, even if they motion out of the backfield.
With an athlete like Ronald Jones, this is something which could be used to exploit Falcons tendencies.
Allen is a willing tackler, not a great one. He’ll allow himself to get flat-footed at times and will catch-tackle if he’s facing an offensive opponent with a significant size difference. He prefers to go low, but does a good job of keeping his head up when he does.
Ball carriers should look to close quickly against Allen, and force him into committing low too early, allowing for an easier shed of the tackle attempt or force him into tackling in a fashion he’s not comfortable with which opens the door for mistakes.
Missed tackles are huge in every game, and as a safety, one missed tackle from Allen could be a big play for the Buccaneers offense. Exploiting his tendencies is one way the team can try and manufacture yards against a defense which has been playing very well as of late.
Allen has been a big part of why the Atlanta Falcons defense has picked up their performance and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in ten quarters of football. He’s also someone who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could focus in on to try and sway momentum to their side, early in this weekend’s game.
How Allen performs, and how the Bucs attack him, could have a big impact on who comes out on top. So keep an eye on No. 37 when the Buccaneers take on the Falcons in Week 12.