The Bucs’ bye week is behind them and they’re in trouble of losing control of their season. After a hot start, they’ve dropped their last two games and simply have looked overmatched. They’ll look to turn things around against a very underwhelming Falcons team dealing with a slew of injuries.
Atlanta enters this contest 1-4 and dead last in the NFC South. This matchup could act as a real momentum boost for whoever comes out with the win.
Date: October 14th, 2018
Time: 1:00 PM EST
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Atlanta, FL
Line: Bucs -3.5 O/U 57
All-Time Series: Falcons 25-24
Jameis Winston’s First Start Of The Year
When Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the season, many, including myself, didn’t give the team much of a chance to start the year. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick did about as well as one could hope and well beyond. The Bucs now sit at 2-2 after Fitzpatrick started the first four games despite Winston coming back in Week 4. Winston finished out the second half against the Bears and will take his first start under center this week against the Falcons.
Winston is in a precarious position of needing to perform well right away. After the off-field incident that got him suspended and his inconsistent play on the field, Winston needs to prove to the Bucs’ brass that he’s the right man to lead this team into the future. A game against the Falcons might be a good start for the Florida State product.
In six career games against the Falcons, Winston is 3-2 but has put up his best numbers when compared to games against other NFC South opponents. Winston has thrown for 1,245 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 110. The Falcons are just the team the Bucs and Winston want to play with their season’s hopes hanging in the balance.
Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley vs. Bucs Secondary
It’s not a question of will Julio Jones go off against the Bucs but really how much will he ultimately produce. Jones has been a Bucs killer his entire career. Over his 12 games against the Bucs he’s hauled in 83 catches for 1,413 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the first matchup last season, Jones actually had the third-best yardage game of his career, going for 253 yards and adding two touchdowns. He has yet to find the end zone in 2018 but against a struggling defense like the Bucs, it’s only a matter of time.
Julio Jones vs. Mike Smith's defense (4 games):
41 targets, 27 catches, 484 yards, 4 TDs
138.7 passer rating when targeted
91.7 PFF Receiving Grade
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) October 11, 2018
Lining up with Jones as the other receiver is Alabama rookie Calvin Ridley. While many questioned Ridley’s upside during the draft process, he’s showing everyone why he was considered one of, if not the best receiver in his class. Despite being fourth on the team in targets and catches, Ridley is second on the team in receiving yards (302) and first in touchdowns (6). While the Bucs will focus on Jones, for good reason, they shouldn’t forget about Ridley.
Which Bottom-Tier Defense Will Step Up?
The Bucs and Falcons are going through the same struggles in the early part of 2018. Both teams’ offenses are ranked in the top-15 but also are bottom five on defense. The Bucs have let up 445.8 yards per game (2nd worst) and the Falcons have given up 398.6 (5th worst). Both squads are the only teams in the NFL to allow over 30 points per game as well (Falcons 32.6, Bucs 34.8).
For the Falcons, the majority of their struggles have come from injuries to their front seven. Defensive linemen Grady Jarrett and Derrick Shelby have been ruled out against the Bucs which will hurt the Falcons pass rush once again. The usually reliable secondary has been far from good this season as well. Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver, and Robert Alford have been a let down so far and the defense has suffered.
On the Bucs side, the defensive struggles are a mix between injury and youth. Three rookies have gotten a ton of snaps due to need. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J Stewart have played in 90.74% and 60.37% of snaps respectively. Safety Jordan Whitehead has only played 34.07% of snaps but that should increase with Chris Conte being put on the IR.
Veteran corner Brent Grimes dealt with injuries in the early part of the season but when he’s been on the field he hasn’t played to his usual standards. According to Pro Football Focus, Grimes ranks 109th out of 112 corners in coverage with a grade of 40.2. He has also allowed a passer rating of 158.3 when targeted, a huge increase from 73.8 in 2017.
The lone bright spot for the Bucs’ secondary has been second-year safety Justin Evans. He’s been on the field for all but two defensive snaps and has a defensive grade of 75.2, 25th among all NFL safeties.
Prediction: Falcons def Bucs 31-30
The over/under on this game is 57 and that’s a good spot. I can see this game going way over that though since both teams have potent offenses and porous defenses. It’s hard to say which team is better at this point though. Both teams have great receiving cores that should tear up the other teams secondary. The difference could come in the run game. Even without Devonta Freeman, the Falcons have the advantage there. Tevin Coleman should be a weapon on the ground and in the air and that’s why I think the Falcons pull off the win against the Bucs.
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