- The last time Atlanta and Tampa Bay played, Julio Jones lit up the Bucs for 253 yards. Can the Bucs prevent that from happening again?
Three things to know ahead of Falcons-Buccaneers on NFL Week 15 Monday Night Football...
1. Last time the Bucs saw Julio Jones, he posted 253 yards receiving against them. Tampa Bay’s only hope for containing Jones is having its four-man pass rush get home, which hasn’t happened all year. On the back end, the Bucs plays mostly static zones, so the offense knows exactly where every defender will be at all times—whatever matchup the Falcons want for Jones, they can get. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith should strongly consider doing what he did towards the end of last week’s Lions game: change up to man-lurk coverage. The man-to-man comes as a surprise, and having a lurker (i.e. free shallow middle-of-the-field defender) combats Atlanta’s lethal crossing routes.
2. At times, Jameis Winston was a tad jittery from the pocket in last week’s loss to the Lions. Is he concerned with protecting that sore shoulder? The Falcons will try to find out. Winston’s uneasiness came mainly against Detroit’s stunts and twists. The Falcons love those pass rushing tactics, especially in nickel when three defensive linemen are aligned to one side. The Bucs have a fine, but not athletic, offensive line, and most of their passing concepts come off deeper dropback timing. That makes them ripe for attacking with stunts and twists.
3. Cameron Brate must be big in this game. The fourth-year tight end is one of the NFL’s best seam weapons, especially in the red zone, and Atlanta’s single-high safety scheme can be vulnerable against seam patterns. Brate also poses an interesting challenge in the running game—he’s not a great blocker, but his presence, along with rookie O.J. Howard’s, allows the Bucs to still throw when they go to “13” (1 RB, 3 TE) personnel or “22” (2 RB/FB, 2 TE). The Falcons knows this; typically against those heavier formations they replace top corner Desmond Trufant with Brian Poole, a sturdier tackler. But in Week 12 against Tampa Bay, Trufant stayed in against “13” and “22” in case the Bucs tried to go vertical with their tight ends.
Bold Prediction: Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman will combine for over 130 yards rushing. Tampa Bay’s linebackers Lavonte Davis, Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith (a third-round rookie gem) are playing very well, but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s absence grossly downgrades the front four. McCoy could get the penetration that is so key to combatting a true outside zone ground game like Atlanta’s.
Score Prediction: Falcons 28, Bucs 17