Mike Evans is someone that the defensive coordinators have to game plan for week in and week out. It doesn’t matter that Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, or Antonio Brown are there. Mike Evans is still “the guy” that can impact an opposing defense unlike anyone else on this Bucs roster.
Against the Falcons, that’s even more true in week fifteen.
Evans has had a successful career, we can all agree on that. However, against the Falcons, he always seems to shine brightest. For his career, he has 60 receptions (second most against any one opponent - 67 against Carolina), 906 yards (most against any one opponent), and eight touchdowns (most against any one opponent) in just eleven games. He’s actually faced the Falcons the fewest times among NFC South foes, having faced Carolina fourteen times and the Saints thirteen times.
This year’s Falcons team is giving up the third most passing yards in the NFL, averaging 281.8 yards per game. Their secondary is depleted and - even at full strength - is one of the easiest to take advantage of. There’s no question that they are going to have to utilize as many resources as possible to try and stop Evans.
So what if he’s double covered the whole game? Simple - Tom Brady will take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities left available for Godwin, Brown, and Gronk. And let’s not forget Scotty Miller who will could take the top off Atlanta’s defense while only going about half speed.
So if Brady is hitting all his other receivers all day long, the Falcons will have to adjust - leaving Evans in one-on-one coverage against the likes of A.J. Terrell or Isiah Oliver. That’s a feast like we haven’t seen since Thanksgiving just waiting to happen.
We haven’t even taken into account the fact that Ronald Jones won’t be playing and even though Leonard Fournette is “serviceable,” the Bucs may opt to do a little more running through the air this week. That would mean the receivers will be getting quick, short passes and trying to gain yards after the face. Passes like that tend to lean towards guys like Godwin or AB, but that will also open things up for Evans down the field. If Brady is completing these quick hitters, the defense will start to creep closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing someone like Evans to use his body and long strides to hit his defender with a quick double move and get up the field without dealing with a safety crashing down on top of him.
So, yes - it doesn’t matter whether Evans ends up with fifteen targets or three, he will have a significant impact on the game Sunday strictly off of how Atlanta opts to cover him. If they shade his way to keep two men on him, Brady will expose the other side and take advantage of the single coverage. If the Falcons have to pivot and start shading Godwin or AB, Evans will eat up their corners in single coverage and have another monster game against the dirty birds.