The Bucs were able to get the job done in Week 1, but their Week 2 matchup with the Falcons is even more important than the season-opener against Dallas.
That's because this is a divisional matchup. These games go a long, long way in determining playoff seeding. Plus, you always want to smash a rival, right?
If the Bucs pull off the following list of items, then they should have no issue smashing the Falcons on Sunday. A 2-0 start with a 1-0 record in division play is a big accomplishment, so let's take a look at what Tampa Bay needs to do in order to achieve that goal.
5. Stop the Falcons' run game
The Bucs run defense will be very important this week. This is because the Falcons offense loves to run play-action, but they will move away from it if the running game isn't working.
Just take last week's first quarter, for example. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Falcons ran the ball 13 times for 86 yards. Seven of Matt Ryan's 14 first quarter dropbacks were play-action calls. He completed five passes for 34 yards.
The Eagles shut down the run game after the first quarter. The Falcons attempted 13 runs and amassed just 38 yards over the next three quarters. As a result, only three of Ryan's remaining 25 dropbacks were play-action calls.
Arthur Smith's offense isn't as nearly as effective without an efficient play-action game. The Titans averaged 21.4 points per game with an ineffective play-action game compared to 34.6 points per game when it worked effectively in 2020. If the Bucs can halt the run, then they will take out one of the Falcons' offensive arteries.
4. Minimize mistakes
This seems awfully basic, I know. However, the Bucs had major issues with penalties and turnovers which nearly cost them the game against Dallas. That can't happen again this week, especially against an Atlanta team that's hungry for its first win.
There is no metric or stat or predictive machination that can prevent this. It's all on the players to protect the ball and stay disciplined. Will the Bucs rebound and control what they can control? Make no mistake: If the Bucs commit turnovers and stay behind the chains, then Atlanta can easily win this game.
3. Protect Tom Brady
Dean Pees loves to dish out a ton of exotic fronts and disguise pressure, which will drive just about any NFL quarterback bonkers. This strategy also affects the offensive line's performance, which can lead to more aches and pains for said quarterback(s).
The Bucs offensive line didn't allow a sack against the Cowboys, but Dan Quinn's scheme is vastly different from Pees'. This week will be a much different test and Brady knows that.
"[Pees] really challenges the quarterback," Brady told reporters on Thursday. "[His teams are] very sound defensively. I don’t think there are a lot of easy plays out there. He makes you earn everything."
Remember last year's Week 15 matchup? Brady and the Bucs offensive line got stomped by the Falcons pass rush and the result was a 17-0 lead at halftime. The Falcons secondary is a major question mark, so if the Bucs give Brady time, then the team will have major success on offense.
And let's not forget the man is 44-years-old. That plays a big role, as well.
2. Man the slot
Ross Cockrell will be the main man in the slot, but expect other players to man the position throughout the game. This is because the Falcons have a unique set of personnel on offense that allows them to deploy multiple groupings.
Per SIS, the Falcons are top-5 in 21/22 personnel usage and top-10 in 13 personnel usage. This makes sense since they have a tight end like Kyle Pitts, who is essentially a receiver. The Falcons can line up in 22 personnel (two tight ends, two running backs) and put Pitts in the slot and Calvin Ridley on the outside. All of a sudden, you need big yet quick bodies on the field that also have coverage ability.
This is why Jordan Whitehead's return is so big. He's the Bucs' main box safety, but he can also match up on tight ends from time to time. Now, a player like Mike Edwards or Antoine Winfield Jr. will probably see Pitts before Whitehead, but I'm wondering if Whitehead's return will prompt the Bucs to deploy some dime packages. That would be beneficial in regard to the aforementioned Falcons strategy.
1. Pressure, pressure, pressure
It doesn't matter what the Falcons offense wants to do if the offensive line plays like it did against the Eagles.
So, that obviously means the Bucs need to repeat what the Eagles did, right? Well, of course. The good news is that the Bucs have one of the best pass rushes in the league and should hold their own against a very questionable Falcons offensive line.
The best part about the Eagles' pressure success is that 13 of their 16 pressures came out of a four-man front, per SIS. The defense will eat if the Bucs can send four and drop seven in coverage on a consistent basis. This will also help the secondary in a big, big way.
The Bucs have to get consistent pressure this week. It's very realistic they cover the 12.5-point spread if they do.
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