This weekend the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play with their season on the line as they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. The Falcons are currently 6-6 and hold a one game lead over the 5-7 Bucs in the NFC South division race. And while this won’t be a “win and you’re in” situation like we saw late last year against the Carolina Panthers, it will very likely be a “lose and you’re out” game for the Buccaneers.
Of course, we have already seen this matchup play out once this year. It was a frustrating 16-13 loss for the Bucs where they did everything in their power to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. This time around should present a more difficult challenge on the road in what is essentially a playoff game for these two teams.
Many of the matchups will be the same, but very different at this point in the year. Here’s how I see those matchups in this do or die game for the Bucs in this week’s Skeleton Keys to Victory.
Make Ridder Beat You
So far in his young career, we have learned that Desmond Ridder is high risk, low reward. That’s to say that he is more likely to have multiple turnovers than he is to throw for 250+ yards in a game. The numbers back this up as he currently ranks 26th in passing yards and 6th in interception percentage as well as 6th in fumbles.
In short, the more you can force Ridder to throw the ball, the more likely it is that he’ll make a mistake. This will mean committing to stopping the run and forcing long down and distance situations. Putting the Falcons behind schedule on early downs is critical.
The Buccaneers were unable to do that the first time around and gave up several 3rd and short situations. This allowed the Falcons to play their game and threaten to score more often than the final score indicated.
Carlton Davis vs Drake London
This is a one on one battle that should be fun to watch. Drake London is an emerging young receiver who brings great size and good mobility. Carlton Davis has made a living shutting down big body wide receivers like this.
Against an offense that brings very little else in terms of pass catchers, shutting down London is key for the Bucs. We saw that to a degree the first time around when London was held to 6 catches for 54 yards in a game where Atlanta scored just 16 points. A repeat performance like that will go a long way in limiting what the Falcons offense can do.
I would even hope that the Bucs will have Davis follow London wherever he goes, which is something the Buccaneers typically don’t do to opponents. However, with starter Jamel Dean injured, keeping David on London protects Zyon McCullom from a difficult matchup.
Air It Out
The Falcons pass defense is very respectable. Their pass rush is coming along and they have some top tier players in their secondary, such as Jesse Bates and AJ Terrell. This part of their team is by no means a weakness.
However, the Bucs might be catching Atlanta at the right time to take advantage of their pass defense. Terrell is currently in the concussion protocol and has been limited in practice all week. At this point, it seems like he is trending towards being out this week. Opposite him, Jeff Okudah is dealing with an ankle injury and he might also miss the game this weekend.
This comes at a good time for the Buccaneers. This past week has come with a lot of drama about star wide receiver Chris Godwin and the number of targets he has been getting lately. Between this and Mike Evans having another excellent year, there is every reason to throw the ball this week against a potentially vulnerable defense.