The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a shot at a little piece of history this weekend when they travel up to Atlanta to take on the Falcons: The Bucs have never swept the Falcons in back-to-back seasons since the NFL realigned divisions in 2002.
That will change this weekend if the Bucs pull off the win. But in order to do that, they will have to win the following matchups.
3. TE Rob Gronkowski vs. S Erik Harris
Per Sports Info Solutions, Harris has been targeted the most (12) and has seen the most coverage snaps (18) when it comes to Falcons defenders covering tight ends. So, while we won't see these two face off on every play, it's likely to see them go at it the majority of the time on Sunday.
Harris has fared well so far this year. He's allowed six receptions for 71 yards on 12 targets and has given up an average of 0.14 EPA/tgt when covering opposing tight ends.
The Falcons, as a whole, have fared well against tight ends this year. But not against Gronk, who finished the Week 2 matchup with four receptions for 39 yards and two touchdowns. Atlanta's defense yielded 0.82 EPA/tgt in that game -their worst of the year- but have averaged a mark of (-0.11) EPA/tgt in their other 10 games.
We've seen over the last two weeks how much Gronk's presence helps this offense, so it's crucial that the Falcons find ways to defend him on Sunday. And that starts with Harris.
2. WR Mike Evans vs. CB Fabian Moreau
A.J. Terrell -the Falcons' second-year corner- lives on the left side of the Falcons defense, while Moreau stays on the right side. And even though the Bucs receivers have the versatility and ability to play different positions on offense (X, Z, slot, etc.), it's Evans who will see Moreau the most, which is what happened back in Week 2.
Evans logged five receptions for 75-yards and two touchdowns on nine targets during that game, but per SIS, Moreau only allowed him to snag two passes for 23 yards and a touchdown. Evans' route burned Moreau, however, which really put a damper on what was a solid performance, otherwise.
Antonio Brown is expected to miss his sixth straight game, so the Bucs will again look toward the best receiver in franchise history with the idea that he can help get things going against a pass defense that gave up five passing touchdowns to Tom Brady back in Week 2.
The Falcons, on the other hand, are hoping Moreau can step up and make sure Evans doesn't replicate his last performance, which would go a long way toward preventing the Bucs from sweeping the Falcons for the second year in a row.
1. RB/WR/S/QB/TE Cordarrelle Patterson vs. the Bucs defense
This article is usually reserved for individual matchups, but Patterson isn't your typical individual matchup. The ninth-year receiver is the team's leading rusher and is second to Kyle Pitts in both receptions (41) and receiving yards (500) and his nine total touchdowns are easily the most among all Falcons. Olamide Zaccheaus is second on the team with three receiving touchdowns. And, he leads the team with an average of 23.7 yards per kick return while tying for the team lead in returns (14).
Oh, and the Falcons played him at safety for a few snaps in Week 12 and are weighing the possibility of doing it again this weekend when the Bucs come to town.
Like I said: Patterson isn't your typical individual matchup. Stopping him is the No. 1 priority this week.
That won't be easy considering how Arthur Smith lines him up literally everywhere. Per Pro Football Focus, Patterson has logged at least one snap at the following positions in 2021:
- Running back
- Receiver (X, Z, and slot)
- Tight end
- Free safety
- Kick returner
And to top it all off, Patterson is having a very good year in this role. He's currently fifth in the NFL with 1,238 all-purpose yards and per SIS, he has the 14th-best EPA/tgt (0.30) as a receiver. Football Outsiders also has him at 14th in DYAR among running backs with 18-95 rushes on the year.
The Bucs defense will be able to get off the field more often if it can slow down Patterson, but that is obviously easier said than done. Either way, it has to happen if the Bucs want to win this weekend.
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