Wed, 07 Dec 2022

Falcons' Ground Attack Spurs Early-Season Rise

Buccaneers
06 Oct 2022, 18:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay BuccaneersScouting Report: Coming off a two-game win streak led by an explosive rushing onslaught and late-game defensive heroics, the Atlanta Falcons will strive to dethrone their nemeses, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers…Key players and strengths and weaknesses for the Bucs' Week 5 opponentBrianna Dix

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play a third straight home game in Week Five against division rival Atlanta Falcons at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 9 via FOX. Coming off a two-game losing streak, the Buccaneers are at a crux in the 2022 slate. In this NFC South showdown, Tampa Bay will strive to correct their trajectory going forward. The game will dictate who takes first place atop the division race, with both clubs currently sitting at a 2-2 record - however, they are two teams recently moving in opposite directions.

The Falcons are entering Week Five with momentum from a two-game win streak. In order to catapult themselves upward, the Buccaneers have to match Atlanta's aggression. After opening the season 0-2, the Falcons have found their rhythm ahead of Sunday's clash.

In Week One, the Saints rallied to beat the Falcons, 27-26, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kicker Wil Lutz sealed the victory for New Orleans with a 51-yard field goal to give Dennis Allen his first victory as head coach of the Saints. Atlanta dominated the first three quarters, with an effective game plan by Arthur Smith, employing an RPO-based attack with zone reads. Marcus Mariota excelled on designed quarterback rollouts and Cordarrelle Patterson gashed the Saints' defense, with the ability to quickly get north post-cut. The Falcons' lined up receivers in bunch formations, not allowing the Saints defensive backs to press at the line of scrimmage. However, the tide shifted in the fourth quarter. The Saints began utilizing an up-tempo, no-huddle attack in the final slate, not allowing Dean Pees to dial up disguises.

Against the Rams in Week Two, Jalen Ramsey picked off Mariota's pass intended for Bryan Edwards in the end zone, allowing Los Angeles to come out victorious, 31-27. The defending Super Bowl champions led throughout the game but nearly blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead that would have rewritten a bitter, infamous memory - Atlanta's lead in the 2017 Super Bowl before the Patriots came from behind to win. Mariota had second-half touchdown passes to Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus to bring the club to a 31-17 score. A blocked punt by Troy Anderson and an ensuing Lorenzo Carter 26-yard touchdown return, along with a two-point conversion from Mariota to London cut the deficit to 31-25. However, the fateful interception by Mariota led to the team's defeat.

Week Three changed the team's course. On 54 plays, the Falcons accumulated 386 offensive yards. Patterson (now on injured reserve), imposed his will on the ground with a career-high 141 yards and one touchdown, demoralizing the Seahawks' defense by pounding his way down the field in the second quarter. Seattle started the game stacking the box, which created favorable one-on-one matchups for the Falcons on the outside. Once the Seahawks allocated more resources on the back end with shell coverages, holes opened for rushers as the O-Line pushed the line of scrimmage with second-level blocking. For Seattle, Geno Smith threw for 320 yards but two costly sacks on the team's final drive put a stamp on the 27-23 win for Atlanta.

As two run-first teams went head-to-head in Week Four - the Browns and the Falcons - the team with fewer mistakes emerged the victor in the 23-20 nail-biter. Atlanta finished with over 200 rushing yards, with Tyler Allgeier producing 8.4 yards per carry and Caleb Huntley - a player activated from the practice squad - averaging over five yards a carry. Stellar blocking up front spearheaded the output as Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom bullied on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Allgeier and Huntley combined to rush nine times for 97 yards on the right. Whether it was inside or outside zone, a quarterback rollout or a wide receiver screen, the Falcons were proficient. Additionally, the defense has taken strides forward in 2022. Grady Jarrett, Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie terrorized Jacoby Brissett in the pocket, forcing off-kilter throws. The Falcons' defensive unit has put up impressive numbers compared to last year. In 2021, the defense accumulated 18 sacks, 58 tackles for loss and 59 quarterback hits. Through four games in 2022, Dean Pees' group has eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits. With a powerful ground game and attack-styled defense, the Falcons have found their winning formula. On Sunday, the Buccaneers will have to counter their smash-mouth football philosophy with sheer physicality.

Falcons' Difference-Makers

The Falcons are comprised of several talented players on both sides of the football. Many could have made the list, but these narrowed few stand out. Keep your eyes on these four who could help swing the game in Atlanta's favor on Sunday afternoon:

QB Marcus Mariota

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year deal in March, just hours after trading Matt Ryan. Mariota, a former No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, crossed paths with Arthur Smith in Nashville. The team enters a bright future if Smith can do for Mariota's career what he did for Ryan Tannehill (2019-2020). The former 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner is a dual-threat quarterback who can pick up yards on both designed runs and when the pocket breaks down. Mariota can make throws off his back foot on the move and opens up the playbook with his athleticism in contrast to a pocket passer like Ryan. In Week Four, Patrick Mahomes averaged 8.5 yards per rush, resulting in four attempts for 34 yards against the Bucs. He was able to consistently evade pressure and following the loss; Buccaneer players stressed the need to finish plays. On Sunday, setting the edge and being disciplined in run fits and primary assignments will be crucial against another mobile threat in Mariota.

TE Kyle Pitts

The highest-selected tight end in NFL history, Kyle Pitts signed his rookie contract with the Falcons in June of 2021. During his rookie campaign, Pitts eclipsed the 1,000-yard marker and averaged 15.1 yards per reception on 68 catches. Pitts possesses ideal size, speed and athleticism to dominate linebackers and defensive backs with nuanced route running. After Atlanta traded Julio Jones, Pitts became a centerpiece in Smith' s offense. Traditionally, rookie tight ends struggle in their transition from college to the pros with the intricacies that the position encompasses. At the collegiate level, tight ends are viewed primarily as a big slot receiver or solely as an in-line blocker. The adaptation process poses a learning curve but Pitts - touted as a generational talent - made an immediate contribution with great balance to generate yards after catch. Pitts is a nightmare mismatch and a player that the Buccaneers' defense will have to account for on every snap. In Week Four, Chiefs' Travis Kelce imposed his will on third down, finding soft spots in zone and utilizing his size to box out defenders on short-to-intermediate routes over the middle of the field. Kelce concluded the matchup with nine receptions for 92 yards and a 10.2 average yards per reception. Kansas City found a way to exploit underneath and Tampa Bay's defense will have to strive to contain Pitts on Sunday afternoon. Keep an eye on the injury report, however - Pitts did not practice on Wednesday due to a hamstring issue.

WR Drake London

During the 2022 Draft, the Falcons added to their receiving corps with Drake London (No. 8 overall), the top graded receiver by many analysts among a talent-filled class, to bolster the aerial attack. With a desired emphasis placed on generating yards-after-contact from intermediate routes, similar to what the Chiefs employ with Kelce and what system Smith ran in Tennessee, London will be the centerpiece. London can get north quickly with burst when the ball is in his hands, becoming a viable target on screens and underneath throws. He keeps cornerbacks off-balance with the pace of his routes and the Buccaneers' defense will have to rally to the football in Week Five.

DT Grady Jarrett

Grady Jarrett has long been the Falcons' best defensive lineman, anchoring the front of Dean Pees' unit. With an explosive get-off, Jarrett wreaks havoc in the backfield. He is relentless in rushing the passer, garnering the nickname, "You shall not pass." He is a player that may not produce flashy statistics, but his defensive contributions are noticeable every game. Jarrett's lateral quickness allows him to quickly get off the ball and into gaps. The one-gap penetrator can disrupt a gameplan. Tampa Bay's offensive line needs a productive day in the trenches to counteract Jarrett's ability.

Strengths

Here are some ways in which the Falcons have excelled in 2022:

3.5, or the number of sacks that Grady Jarrett has accumulated this season - the most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. He has consistently pushed the pocket with explosiveness out of his stance, becoming the defensive catalyst for Dean Pees' unit.231. Rookie Drake London leads the Falcons with 18 receptions, 231 receiving yards and two touchdowns this season (ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards among rookies). Off play-action, London has become a go-to target for Marcus Mariota through the first few weeks of the season.168.0. The Falcons currently have the fourth ranked rush offense (168.0 yards per game), utilizing a combination of rush schemes along with designed rollouts to complement Mariota's speed to gash opponents. Atlanta has placed an emphasis on running the football and it will hope to continue the trend against the Buccaneers.Weaknesses

Negative factors hindering the outcome of ballgames for the Falcons, most notable in 2022:

130.0. the Falcons' defense has allowed an NFL-high 130.0 passer rating against quick passes this season. In Weeks 1-3, Atlanta surrendered a 110.0-plus passer rating against quick passes per Next Gen Stats. The short-to-intermediate passing attack has worked against the Falcons as opponents have upped the tempo to mitigate the pass rush.Marcus Mariota ranks in the bottom five among 32 qualified passers in several metrics: 58.2 completion percentage (30th), four interceptions (29th in TD-INT ratio), 76.9 passer rating (28th). Mariota has made mistakes with his risk-reward philosophy and will strive for revitalization against Tampa Bay.Atlanta's pass offense ranks 29th in the league. With the desire for a balanced approach, the Falcons have fallen short through the first four weeks of the season. As more and more opponents stack the box, allocating resources to stop the run, the Falcons will be forced to try and find success through the air in order to win.New Faces in 2022

ILB Rashaan Evans

The Falcons lost Foyesade Oluokun and brought in a former first round pick (Titans) in linebacker Rashaan Evans. He started the last three years in Tennessee and is familiar with Dean Pees' system. He will join the defensive rotation featuring veterans Deion Jones and Mykal Walker (Jones is currently on injured reserve). With quick read-and-react skills and burst to close to the ball, Evans has elevated the Falcons' defense.

CB Casey Hayward Jr.

A.J. Terrell has a new running mate in Casey Hayward Jr., who signed a two-year deal in March. With ball skills, instincts and anticipation, Hayward boosts the back end in Atlanta. Hayward played primarily in the slot with the Green Bay Packers and through four years made 20 starts with nine interceptions. After his rookie deal expired, Hayward joined the Chargers in their final year in San Diego and played outside for the club. In his first two seasons with the Chargers (2016 and 2017), Hayward was one of the league's best corners, earning back-to-back Pro Bowl selections after accumulating 11 interceptions through a two-year span (seven in 2016). He now presents an upside in the Falcons' secondary rebuild.

OLB Arnold Ebiketie

The Falcons addressed their pass rush on day two of the 2022 NFL Draft with Arnold Ebiketie (No. 38 overall). The Penn State product possesses an effective arsenal of moves including a rip-and-dip along with an effective bull rush. He has flexibility around the edge and can gain leverage inside with acceleration off offensive tackles, optimizing speed and awareness. He gives the Falcons a boost at the second level, bringing a feisty demeanor to the mix.

RB Tyler Allgeier

The Falcons selected BYU running back Tyler Allgeier with the No. 151 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, a few days after Atlanta parted ways with veteran running back Mike Davis. He joined a room featuring Cordarrelle Patterson (injured reserve, knee), Damien Williams (injured reserve, ribs) and Caleb Huntley. Allgeier is a patient runner, letting blocks develop. The instinctive runner is powerful between the tackles and has elevated the Falcons' running back corps, providing a new wrinkle for Arthur Smith.

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