Keys to the Game: Buccaneers at Falcons

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head in to week 15 of the NFL season still firmly in the playoff race. The only thing standing in there way are the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions.

Luckily for the Buccaneers, the Falcons have been in disarray, and won’t have star wide receiver Julio Jones on Sunday. Still, Tampa Bay will need to play sound football if they hope to come home with a win.

Slide Protection to the Left

Left tackle Donovan Smith was ruled out due to a close contact COVID incident, which means Josh Wells will step in his place.

Smith has been serviceable so far this season, and Wells has seen limited action in his career, starting only 11 games. Tristan Wirfs has played like an all-pro, and will need to gut it out without an help on Sunday.

The game plan on offense is simple, put a tight end out to the left side in order to help Wells, if you leave him on an island, you’re asking for trouble.

The Falcons defense is considered underrated by a few analysts, and they actually rank 14th in defensive DVOA. To be fair, that is mostly due to their stout rushing defense, their pass defense is a different story. So far in 2020, Atlanta ranks 20th in pass defense DVOA. The Falcons also give up the third most passing yards per game at 281.1

If there was ever a time where Bruce Arians’ offense will look at its best, it’s against this poor Falcons secondary.

Play Sound Defense

With no Julio Jones, the Buccaneers defense should have a much easier time against the Falcons passing attack. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Carlton Davis and company held Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to 78 combined receiving yards.

Atlanta’s offense ranks bottom in the league, 21st in pass DVOA, and 28th in run DVOA. They rank above average in yards, but only because of garbage time stats.

Looking at the running game, Todd Gurley is definitely not looking like his former self. Stats aside, the film doesn’t lie. Gurley looks old, slow, and his vision has regressed. The Buccaneers had a few difficulties stopping Dalvin Cook last week, but I doubt Gurley will pose much of a threat this Sunday.

If Todd Bowles can scheme stunts and exotic blitzes at the right time, Matt Ryan should be running for his life. This is a game the Buccaneers need to win, and one they should win.

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