The Atlanta Falcons, once labeled Super Bowl contenders, are now looking to right the ship on Sunday against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons head into this game on a three-game losing streak after a sub-optimal 41-17 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are coming in after their bye week, looking to avenge a 48-10 loss against the Chicago Bears. Quarterback Jameis Winston will take over the starting role after backup Ryan Fitzpatrick proved to be ineffective after playing well in the first few games of the season.
Atlanta is now 1-4 on the season and is at a crossroads, in a very tough NFC South. The Falcons currently sit at the cellar behind division leader New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa respectively. If there is any bright side at all, it is that the Falcons are 1-1 in the division and Tampa could be the perfect remedy.
The offense did not put on its best performance against the Steelers, most notably converting six of fourteen third down opportunities last Sunday. However, Quarterback Matt Ryan has played at a pro bowl caliber pace, throwing for 1601 yards, 11 touchdowns, with just two interceptions.
Many criticized Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian after Week One and rightfully so. Since September 9th, the offense has produced. The offense has converted 46.97 percent of their third-down opportunities, (second best in the NFL) average 26.6 points per game (tied for 9th best in the NFL) and average 6.1 yards per play (sixth best in the NFL).
This week, the offense will have to account for Bucs’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy who is big, long and extremely quick at the point of attack. In addition to McCoy, linebackers LaVonte David and Kwon Alexander are sideline-to-sideline players that also love coming downhill to make tackles.
The Achilles’ heel of the Falcons through the first five weeks has been the defense. Against Pittsburgh, Atlanta’s defense did not get off the field as the Steelers converted nine of twelve third down opportunities.
In addition, running back James Conner notched 110 yards and two touchdowns. Even though the Falcons were without four starters plus Grady Jarrett was also the latest casualty with an ankle injury. He has not practiced this week and his status is uncertain for Sunday.
Tampa Bay will come in with a prolific passing attack with Wide Receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson but, none of their running backs have far for more than 70 yards.
With Fitzpatrick, the Buccaneers have been a big play, quick strike offense. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Winston would like his chances against the Atlanta secondary.
Starting cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford plus rookie Isaiah Oliver have given up huge plays as they struggle without free safety and defensive captain Ricardo Allen and strong safety Keanu Neal.
This game will come down to which defense can make the timely stop and can Jameis Winston lead an effective offensive attack.
The Atlanta Falcons will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Kickoff is 1:00 PM on FOX. The referee in Sunday’s match-up is Walt Coleman.