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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

Annihilating Atlanta: What the Bucs need to do in order to beat the Falcons in Week 17

With the Bucs clinching the playoffs in Week 16, can they handle their business at home to walk into the playoffs with the fifth seed?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
| Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Your Tampa Bay Buccaneers have clinched the playoffs for the first time in 13 years! After walking into Detroit and clobbering a downtrodden Lions team, the Buccaneers punched their ticket to the postseason in spectacular fashion.

Leading up to the game, many people were worried about the slow starts that the Bucs have been showing as of late. However, some of these worries were quelled after this victory.

Nothing says starting fast like going into the half up 34-0, right? Well, despite this overall positive takeaway, we do have to keep in mind that it was against the Lions with a good amount of their coaching staff out.

In Week 17, things will be different. Not only are the Falcons a better team, but they are also a divisional opponent. While Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter weren’t able to avenge their respective firings two weeks ago, they’ll be getting another shot.

On top of this, the Bucs opened against the Falcons with one of their slowest starts of the year, getting completely shutout in the first half before they were able to mount a roaring comeback out of the break.

There are some reasons for this which I will be getting into shortly, but they’ll need to make sure that they perform like they did in the second half of that game, or they may end up losing their hold on the fifth seed.

Before we get started, I want to note that this will be slightly different from the usual film previews as the Bucs did just play the Falcons two weeks ago. If you want to see overall tendencies and areas that the Bucs can still key on, check the Week 15 preview out here.

I’ll still be getting into areas to key on, but this will be based on what I saw from the Week 15 game as opposed to the Falcons entire season. While they will most likely deploy a different game plan, their overall scheme will remain the same and it’ll be much more helpful to see how the Falcons matched up with the Bucs specifically.

Anyway, let’s get started!

Offense

Improve on blitz pickup

While Tom Brady was only sacked three times throughout the game, the Falcons brought relentless pressure and caused Brady quite a bit of trouble in his timing. In the first half, the Buccaneers had two of their four possessions (not including the kneeldown into the half) end due to sacks.

Let’s look at one of those here:

This was the first sack of the game for the Falcons, and it came at a pretty bad time for the Bucs. Tampa Bay was already down seven and had just punted on their previous two drives after showing minimal success.

The worst part about this though, is that the Falcons only rushed four. Even though the Bucs pass protection has been fairly good though the majority of the season, they still do have mental lapses that can lead to these untimely sacks, which is what happened here.

Even though the Falcons did a good job to disguise the pressure here, the line has to be able to pick things like this up. At the snap, Ryan Jensen notices that his assignment isn’t rushing, so he checks to his right to see if he can clean anything up on that side.

At the same time, Alex Cappa has already locked into his man and is unable to slide down to the blitzing linebacker who comes through untouched. Just the way it looks, it seems as if Cappa is supposed to slide down to pick up the linebacker, while Jensen would slide in and take Cappa’s man.

Unfortunately, Cappa was completely locked into this block and didn’t have his eyes up to notice the linebacker coming in right next to him. While I can’t say with 100% certainty, seeing as I’m not on that coaching staff, I do believe that this sack was on Cappa.

No matter who was at fault here though, the Bucs lost a man on man matchup just based on the pressure design and this just can’t happen when a team rushes four.

Here’s the other drive-ending sack, which occurred on the very next drive:

This is a similar look, this time on the left side of the line with an additional two guys coming from the backside.

So again, I can’t be sure who is at fault here. However, I do know that pressure is dealt with inside out. In a basic sense, this means that the most important guys to block are the guys that are closest to the quarterback.

On both of the above plays, an exterior rusher was covered while an interior rusher hit home. While the delay helps that, lineman have to be aware of the potential for delayed blitzes and adjust their blocks mid-play accordingly.

I’m not going to say it’s easy, because it’s not. But this is the NFL and these guys aren’t out there to do what’s easy.

Ultimately, the Falcons do a great job of disguising it here again, but the Bucs just saw the same thing happen on the other side of the line just one drive before.

If Brady wants to stay on his feet, this offensive line will need to be prepared for a myriad of stunts, delayed pressures, and disguises. The improvement in the second half of this game demonstrated that they are capable of doing it, let’s hope that the adjustments hold through to this upcoming week.

Call high percentage throws on third down

This is an area that the Bucs have had some issues with throughout the season. Not necessarily in picking up third downs, as they are 13th best in the league in third down conversion percentage, but in designing plays to pick them up easily.

Against the Falcons in Week 15, there were some issues on third down in the first half, namely the sacks that the Bucs allowed on back to back drives. However, even prior to that, third downs this season have been somewhat shaky.

Over the course of the year, we’ve seen many deep shots on third and short, or checkdowns on third and long. However, in the last 30 minutes of Week 15, the Bucs drew up some concepts to make third downs easy.

Here’s a look at one of these third downs:

So the Falcons look to be covering this man to man with a single high safety and two linebackers playing robber in the middle of the field. The Bucs draw up a really nice mesh concept that can work well against man or zone, especially when you only need a few yards.

The corner locked on Evans has to follow him through traffic and there’s just far too much of a mess for him to get through. It looks to me that he expects the linebacker to pick Evans up, but that never happens and it leads to a big gain on a third and five.

I can’t think of an easier throw for Brady here. Not only is Evans wide open, but he’s at the sticks and not 30 yards downfield.

Here’s another one:

The Falcons bring five while disguising an additional two rushers who end up dropping. This blitz is similar to the two I showed in the previous section, as the Falcons love to disguise pressure from one direction, only to drop out and pressure from another.

However on this particular down, it doesn’t matter because the Bucs had the perfect play call. It looks to me like the play is designed to clear out the outside corner by having Antonio Brown run a go route, while keeping Godwin close by to pick up blocks along the way once Evans makes the catch.

When you only need four or five yards, why complicate it? This play and the one above are perfect examples of what the Bucs should have been running on third down all along. While I didn’t watch much of New England while Brady was there, I can only assume that this call came from him.

Defense

Get Jamel Dean on Calvin Ridley

So this will actually be my only key for the defensive side of the ball, and here’s why. Calvin Ridley absolutely tore apart this Bucs secondary from start to finish. He ended the day with 10 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Of the 356 yards that Matt Ryan threw for in Week 15, Ridley picked up almost half of those on his own.

While Ridley is obviously a very talented player (he was my key for the Week 15 look), Sean Murphy-Bunting made him look that much better in their first matchup.

I’m not sure what it is that has led to such a poor year from SMB, but whatever it is, it’s going to need to change if he wants to be on the roster in the coming years. His play has been less than ok, and it seems to get worse each week (minus Detroit).

If he is able to build on what he did in Detroit then he should be going in the right direction, otherwise, he shouldn’t be on the field. He looks like he’s lost all of his confidence and it’s showed in his play.

In Week 15, this was no exception as he was matched up with Ridley for a good amount of the game. Let’s take a look at what it was that made it such a rough day for our friend SMB:

On this play, the Bucs look to be in Cover 3 which would make Murphy-Bunting the deep third defender on the right side of the defense. It would make sense that the initial push for Murphy-Bunting is to be over the top of Ridley, however, when they get to the end zone, he needs to work to get in front.

What SMB needs to do here is exactly what we see from Carlton Davis III on the opposite side of the field. Instead, he hangs out about a foot or so away from the end line and it leaves copious amounts of space for Ridley to work to get open.

The big worry here for me is that he didn’t even try to work to get back in front of the receiver here. While this is Cover 3 and there is supposed to be an underneath flat/curl man, there is no one else to threaten over the top (seeing as there is no over the top in the end zone) and SMB needs to recognize that.

Once the ball gets there, SMB is barely within five yards of Ridley. I am not sure if this is an issue with effort, skill, or coaching, but this isn’t something that can happen now, and certainly not in the playoffs.

Here’s another look with SMB in Cover 3 (this time with an extra rusher):

I’m going to add the disclaimer again that I am not a Bucs coach, so I don’t know exactly how they coach this up. With that being said, this looks like it’s on SMB once again.

While it looks like they’re bracketing Ridley here, I don’t think they are. It does look like Antoine Winfield Jr. checks the flat/curl zone for a receiver before he makes his way downfield to Ridley’s position.

In either case, the coverage from Murphy-Bunting isn’t great. While I do concede that he does need to be weary of anything over the top, he also needs to make sure that the receiver in his area doesn’t have five yards of space to catch a pass.

If you notice at the top of Ridley’s route, SMB notices the break to the sideline way too late and it causes him to make an awkward speed turn. The time it takes him to turn around leaves enough time for Ridley to make an uncontested catch for a ~25 yard gain.

Once again, these things can’t happen to the Bucs when they’re facing a better opponent. A team can get away with this kind of play when facing below .500 teams, but against playoff competition, this kind of play can lead to shootouts or blowouts.

The reason I have Jamel Dean listed as the man who should cover Ridley this week is because he’s just better at Cover 3. The Buccaneers have fallen in love with Cover 3 this season and for corners like SMB, it’s caused some trouble.

While all three of the Bucs top corners are big, physical, press man type of guys, SMB struggles with these zone assignments the most. While Dean has had his struggles as well, especially against New York, he’s been much more solid when looking at the entire season.

In Cover 3, he’s able to break on a pass with much more urgency and he has the ball skills to come away with interceptions. Since Ryan will most likely be looking at Ridley all day, Dean would be in a much better position to come away with a turnover.

While I don’t think Carlton Davis III should play due to his injury, if he does, I would still want to see Dean on Ridley. The reason for this is that Dean is the fastest of the three and Ridley is a speedy receiver who can make guys like Davis III (and clearly SMB) struggle.

Conclusion

It’s the last week of the regular season and the Bucs are playing for playoff seeding, rather than higher draft position and boy isn’t that fantastic. While I do want to see the Bucs with the fifth seed, I am truly happy that they are even making it to the playoffs.

For that reason, I would be ok with shutting guys like Evans down (after he breaks the record of course) and giving Brady an early exit like they did last week in Detroit. However, Bruce Arians has stated that they are going to treat this like a game they need to win and I love that mentality.

If they want to win this game, they just need to play the whole game like they did in the second half against this team two weeks ago. By keeping Ridley somewhat contained, the Falcons offense won’t be able to move the ball as effectively and it should lead to a lower scoring output.

In my opinion, Jamel Dean is the best corner for the job and I hope to see him lined up against Ridley for the majority of the game. While I do think that SMB has potential, this season has really thrown a wrench into his confidence and it gets more obvious with each passing week.

On the offensive side of the ball, the big thing that really led to this team laying an egg in the first half in Week 15 was the lack of sustained drives. By keeping Brady off the grass and picking up blitzes more effectively, the Bucs should be able to keep the ball moving.

On top of this, keeping third downs simple should help to not only beat the Falcons, but it should also help to increase this team’s overall third down conversion percentage going into the playoffs.

What do you think it’ll take to beat Atlanta in Week 17? Do you think the Bucs should sit their stars, or play it out for the fifth seed? Let us know in the comments below!

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