In a game that only influences draft position the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the regular season. The Falcons are currently on a two game winning streak while the Bucs just lost their third straight. The Falcons have a team built for success, but injuries slowed them down this season. The Bucs on the other hand, are ready for a rebuild. Let’s take a look at what the Falcons have done and can do on the field on Sunday.
After losing to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have double digit losses for the seventh time in ten seasons. The Atlanta Falcons will be out of the playoffs after two straight seasons in the post season. In a year where the Falcons have lost a lot of starters on defense, they were still a team that could play spoiler each week.
The Falcons have enough skilled players that they could’ve made the playoffs if the ball bounced the other way a few times this season. Out of the teams that are out of the playoffs, only the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos have a better point differential. The Falcons have been fairly inconsistent scoring this season, but they are able to put up more than 30 points at will. Let’s take a look at how the offense has done since their Week six match-up which ended in dramatic fashion.
The Atlanta Falcons currently have a top 10 offense, 8th, with 382.5 yards per game. With most of their offense coming via the pass where they rank 5th, 284.9 yards per game. Their rushing attack struggled once Devonta Freeman went down for the year. The Falcons currently sit at 27th in rush yards per game with 97.6. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two teams with more pass yards and fewer rushing yards per game.
Matt Ryan is quietly having a solid season. Ryan ranks third in passing yards and is likely to finish with the second most yards in his career. With 33 touchdowns compared to five interceptions he ranks fourth in touchdown to interception ratio at 5.5. A 5.5 touchdown to interception ratio would be good enough for 18th all time. Having a quarterback in the top five in all categories that matter many would expect a better record than 6-9 but that’s the NFL.
The Falcons offensive line hasn’t been anything special this year. Allowing the 12th most sacks, 41, Matt Ryan has been susceptible to pressure. Jake Matthews has been proving to be worthy of his big contract extension. Matthews has only allowed 2.5 sacks this season and has only been penalized twice. The Falcons have found their long term left tackle.
As good as the Falcons passing attack has been the have been unable to find success on the ground. Tevin Coleman has 755 yards, 4.7 per carry, with three touchdowns. Over the past eight weeks, Coleman is averaging 56 yards per game with only one game over 100 yards and two games under ten yards. The inconsistency shouldn’t worry the Buccaneers as the Falcons don’t run the ball much. Devonta Freeman only had 68 yards on 14 carries before going down which left Ito Smith as the primary backup.
Ito Smith has struggled gaining yards but has found the end zone four times, one more than Coleman and Matt Ryan. Smith only has 315 rushing yards on 90 carries, a 3.5 yards per carry average. The Falcons are going to have a better rushing attack next year when Freeman comes back but this season the Bucs shouldn’t be afraid of their ground game.
The Atlanta Falcons have a top passing attack and that is due to their incredible trio of receivers. Julio Jones has been incredible yet again with 104 receptions and 1539 yards. While he didn’t have a touchdown for the first seven weeks the talented receiver has recorded seven since then. Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley each have 59 catches and over 700 yards. Rookie, Calvin Ridley leads the team with nine touchdowns.
The Falcons don’t only have strong receivers, their tight end Austin Hooper is second on the team in receptions with 66. He’s only averaging nine yards per catch, 593 total yards, but with four touchdowns, that makes him a valuable target for Matt Ryan. If only they could score in the red zone.
While they may not be lighting it up in the backfield Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith have found success in the passing game. Combined they have 58 receptions, 419 yards, and five touchdowns. All the touchdowns come from Coleman making him the more formidable threat in the passing game.
The Atlanta Falcons defense has been their biggest weakness this season. They’ve surrendered the 27th most yards in the league. They are 25th in pass defense, 254.1 yards per game, and 27th in rush defense, 127.1 yards per game. With those below average numbers the Falcons allow the 25th most points per game, 26.1. The Buccaneers allow 28.7 points per game so look for a high scoring game, unless a lot of backups come in.
The Falcons have a few splash players on their defense but they have not produced up to their skill level. They have a strong group of linebackers but when Deion Jones went down early in the season they were missing out on his leadership. Keanu Neal also been out since Week One and was one of their best players last season. Desmond Trufant is their best cornerback but does not have an interception this season. He does have 10 pass deflections.
The Falcons don’t have a top tier pass rusher, even though Vic Beasley led the league a few years ago. No one on the team has more the six sacks but three players have exactly six. Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, and Tak McKinley lead the team with six each. Vic Beasley is right behind them with five. The Falcons can get to the quarterback from multiple places so Winston will have to be aware in the pocket.
Atlanta’s defense performs well in the interception category. With 14 the Falcons have the eighth most in the league. Strong safety Damontae Kazee leads the way with six interceptions on the season, third most in the NFL. The Falcons do struggle at recovering fumbles, with only four on the year they rank 29th in the league. Atlanta is one of four teams that have a positive turnover differential while being under .500. In large part to Matt Ryan protecting the ball.
FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS
In a kick that seemingly ended the Buccaneers season Matt Bryant injured his hamstring on a 57 yard field goal that put the game away for Atlanta. Since returning after missing four weeks Bryant has only missed one field goal and one extra point, both up in Lambeau. Bryant has been the epitome of consistency for the Falcons and even at age 43 he is still one of the elite. He is third in the league in field goal accuracy and has the fifth longest kick on the season.
Last time the Buccaneers played the Falcons punter Matt Bosher ranked 30th in net yards. Now he has climbed to 16th with 45.2 net yards per punt. He is back up to his career average, which should be expected, so he’s good enough to flip the field on fourth down. Bosher hasn’t had a blocked punt since the Buccaneers game but still leads the league with two blocked. The Falcons special teams are better than most, so if the Bucs don’t get turnovers, this unit will find success in the final week.