Well folks, this is the big one. The Buccaneers (+2) head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons (-2) in a game that may very well decide their season. Tampa Bay could keep their playoff hopes alive with a win but could also have them all but dashed with a loss. This weekend the Bucs look to avoid being swept by Atlanta for the first time since 2018.
To preview this upcoming game, we sat down with Kevin Knight of The Falcoholic to break down this pivotal NFC South matchup.
1. The Falcons have had a bumpy ride as of late with their QB situation. Where do the fans currently stand with Desmond Ridder and do you think the team feels he can still be a long term option?
It’s honestly difficult to untangle Desmond Ridder’s struggles from the overall problems with the passing game. Arthur Smith’s pass game design has done Ridder no favors, but it’s not like Ridder is elevating things either. Ridder shows plus traits as a passer and has had a few good games, but the mistakes are maddening. He’s still a slow processor and doesn’t get through his reads efficiently. But there are fundamental issues with the scheme, like bizarre route concepts, a distinct lack of RPOs (which Ridder was fantastic at executing in college), and poor spacing all around the field. The whole thing is a mess right now and rarely works like it should. In terms of Ridder’s long-term future, I have to think that he’s an unfortunate scapegoat of the offense’s struggles this year no matter what. It’s clear that he’s at least a capable and very affordable backup QB—which isn’t the worst case scenario for a 3rd round pick.
2. Last time these two teams met, Bijan Robinson did not play due to an illness. What can Bucs fans expect to see from the standout rookie running back?
The Falcons have seemingly come to their senses and begun featuring Bijan as the engine of the offense, so expect to get a heavy dose of him in both the run and pass game. Unfortunately, the Falcons have been extremely inconsistent with their run blocking and are very predictable with how they run the ball depending on who is in the backfield. If it’s Bijan, it’s going to be outside zone. If it’s Tyler Allgeier, it’s probably an inside run. All this despite Bijan being a perfectly capable inside runner and the team generally faring better blocking up on the interior. After a weird mid-season lull, Bijan has also begun to be featured more in the pass game. I’d expect 5-6 targets for him, and potentially more given Tampa Bay’s blitz-heavy defense.
3. This Atlanta defense appears to be getting better and better and held Tampa Bay in check back in week 7. What has been the biggest contributor to this success and how do you think they will try and stop a Tampa offense which has shown some improvement lately?
After a very poor three game stretch during Atlanta’s losing streak (brought on by the loss of Grady Jarrett to a season-ending injury), things have stabilized for the Falcons over the past few weeks. The Falcons stop the run very well and typically do a good job of getting opponents into third and medium to long situations. Atlanta is 2nd in 3rd down defense and typically plays very well in that situation, along with being 1st in red zone defense. This is a bend but don’t break defense, as they do give up some yardage in the passing game and can be vulnerable to explosive plays, but they typically tighten up where it counts. However, Atlanta’s defense will be completely wiped out of the defensive interior this week. DTs David Onyemata and LaCale London have both been ruled out along with standout LB Nate Landman. They have almost nothing left at defensive tackle with Jarrett already gone for the season. In the game Onyemata missed against the Cardinals, the Falcons were completely unable to put pressure on Kyler Murray. I’d expect that to continue this week and cause massive issues for Atlanta.
4. When taking a look at this contest, what is your one X-Factor matchup that either team has to win in order to win the game?
It’s really about the Falcons offense in this one. With the defense hurting in a big way, it’ll be up to Ridder, Bijan, and Drake London to score enough points to win. This team has relied heavily on the defense all season, and they won’t be able to in Week 14. Can this offense get out of neutral and have their first 30+ point game of the season? Because they may need it against this Bucs offense, which like you said, has been improving in recent weeks.
5. According to DraftKings, the Bucs are a slight road underdog at +2. How do you see this pivotal division game shaking out and what is your score prediction?
The Falcons defense is missing so many key players right in the heart of the defense, I just can’t see Atlanta keeping the score low like they’ve typically done all season. Instead, they’ll have to win what is looking like a shootout. The Falcons are at home, where they’ve typically played a lot better, but it won’t be easy. This is a critical game, so I’m going to put on my fan goggles and say Arthur Smith finally calls a good game and Atlanta wins a nailbiter, 27-24.
Thanks so much to Kevin for doing this!