Week 1 featured an extremely underwhelming performance by the Atlanta Falcons, the Bucs’ Week 2 opponent. Tampa Bay’s division rivals were blown out at home by the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-6. The Falcons now head to Raymond James Stadium, trying to avoid beginning their second consecutive season 0-2.
Despite the lopsided Week 1 scoreboard against a middling opponent in Philadelphia, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians isn’t letting his guard down.
“You have [Calvin] Ridley, [Kyle] Pitts, [Russell] Gage [and] Cordarrelle Patterson playing running back,” Arians said. “They have weapons. A lot of teams didn’t look good in the first week for whatever reason. Don’t put any stock in that. We know how good the Falcons are.”
Falcons WR Calvin Ridley – Photo by: USA Today
Atlanta will still present a myriad of challenges due to their offensive talent, most notably wide receiver Calvin Ridley. In three games against Todd Bowles’ defense, Ridley has 24 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs did a better job of limiting Ridley in Week 17 last year (8-52-0), but two drops by the fourth-year receiver helped as well.
“I think he already [became a top receiver] last year,” Arians said. “Over there in our last game with them, he had a hell of a ballgame (Week 15). He’s a premier receiver in this league.”
Ridley will be the Falcons top weapon, despite being limited to five catches for 51 yards in the season opener. He’s joined by Russell Gage and Kyle Pitts to form a formidable trio for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. Gage ripped off 14 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns in a pair of matchups against the Bucs last season.
Pitts is still growing entering his second NFL game, but he grabbed four catches for 31 yards against the Eagles, playing 49 of 71 snaps. Billed as perhaps the best tight end prospect ever, the best tight end of all-time has taken notice.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him, and I’ve been hearing a lot about him since he was coming out for the draft,” Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “He’s just an athletic freak – he for sure is. I’ve seen some highlights of him and he can play. It’s just unbelievable – his build, his speed, his size and his route running. The capabilities that he has are just second-to-none. It’s going to be a fun ride to watch him play ball throughout the years.”
TE Kyle Pitts – Photo by: USA Today
Hopefully Sunday isn’t too fun for Pitts, who will play in the slot, out wide and in-line for the Falcons. He’ll present matchup challenges for the Bucs, especially without typical slot cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in the lineup. But the Falcons will likely still look to establish the run first, given the scheme new head coach Arthur Smith brought with him from Tennessee.
“We have to be ready for everything offensively,” Arians said. “Arthur is going to run the ball and it’s going to be the wide zone, wide zone, wide zone, boot leg, boot leg. When they drop back to pass ‘Matty’ (Matt Ryan) can put it out there and he still throws deep-seven routes as good as anybody.”
The Falcons don’t have a feature running back, but Mike Davis out-snapped Cordarrelle Patterson in Week 1, 53 to 24. Patterson was more effective however, rushing seven times for 54 yards compared to Davis’ 15 for 49 yards. Patterson gave the Bucs issues last season as a hybrid offensive weapon for Chicago.
Defensively, the Falcons are still finding their way. DT Grady Jarrett and LB Deion Jones lead the unit, but the team’s pass rush is heavily reliant upon blitzing. That suits new defensive coordinator Dean Pees well, as one of the most aggressive defensive coaches in the NFL. Pees has operated defenses with multiple fronts and coverage schemes in the past, but relied heavily on zone coverage in Week 1.
“Totally different defensively [than in 2020],” Arians said. “Dean Pees is very multiple – every front known to man, every blitz known to man. I think they’re all still feeling each other out on what they can do and what they can’t do. We have to be ready for everything offensively.”
Pees served as New England’s defensive coordinator from 2006-2009, so Bucs QB Tom Brady is familiar with his scheme. Pees was also the opposing defensive coordinator in Tennessee during Brady’s last game as a Patriot in the 2019 playoffs. Expect plenty of blitzing on Sunday, as the Falcons try to create a splash play on defense. The Bucs will need to be prepared with schematic answers to pressure, something they’ve improved at since the 2020 bye week.