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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs At Falcons Looks Like A Shootout
Tampa Bay’s first NFC South game ended with the Bucs on top of the Saints, 48-40, in a Week 1 donnybrook in New Orleans.
Atlanta’s first divisional match-ups included a wild 31-24 home win over Carolina in Week 2, and an even wilder 43-37 overtime loss to New Orleans at home in Week 3.
Should we expect anything less than a high-scoring shootout between the Falcons and the Buccaneers on Sunday? Not if we are to believe the tale of the tape between the two teams.
Both the Falcons and the Bucs have high-scoring offenses that have gained a bunch of yards – especially through the air – and injury-depleted defenses that have given up a bunch of yards and points.
Let’s take a look at the Falcons offense versus the Bucs defense. Atlanta’s offense ranks 13th in total offense, averaging 393.4 yards per game, and ninth in scoring with 26.6 points per game. The Falcons have the ninth-ranked passing attack with 304.2 yards per game and their ground game ranks 26th, averaging 89.2 yards per game. Atlanta is second in the NFL in third down conversions at 47 percent.
Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 31st with 445.8 yards allowed per game, and is surrendering 34.8 points per game. The Bucs have the league’s worst pass defense, allowing 358 yards per game, and their run defense ranks fourth, allowing just 87.8 yards per game on the ground. Tampa Bay’s third down defense is allowing opponents to convert 37 percent, which ranks 14th in the league.
So what will the Falcons do? Throw the ball an awful lot at Tampa Bay’s young and inexperienced secondary, which will start three rookies in cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart and strong safety Jordan Whitehead.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 125-of-183 passing (68.3 percent) for 1,601 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions this year. His top three receivers are – no surprise – Pro Bowler Julio Jones, who leads the Falcons with 34 catches for 564 yards (16.6 avg.) and no TDs, rookie Calvin Ridley, the team’s first-round pick, who has 19 catches for 302 yards (15.9 avg.) and a team-high six touchdowns, and veteran Mohamed Sanu, who had 20 catches for 257 yards (12.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who will be making his first start of the year on Sunday, is 2-0 in Atlanta, which is a little over two and a half hours away from his hometown of Bessemer, Ala. Tampa Bay has the second-ranked offense, averaging 432.8 yards per game, and the top-ranked passing attack, averaging 363.2 yards per game. The Bucs have struggled running the ball, and rank 30th in the league with just 69.5 yards per game, but Tampa Bay has become a pass-first team that is averaging 28 points per game, which ranks sixth in the league.
The Bucs hope to take advantage of an injury-depleted Falcons defense that is missing both starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, and middle linebacker Deion Jones – all of whom are on injured reserve. As a result, Atlanta ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing an average of 398.6 yards per game, in addition to having the 23rd ranked pass defense, surrendering an average of 277.2 yards per game. Look for tight end Cameron Brate to work the seam and attack the middle of the field, in addition to DeSean Jackson running deep post patterns to take advantage of Atlanta’s injuries in the middle of the field.
If the Bucs are going to get their stagnant running game going, it may happen in Atlanta against the league’s 25th-ranked rush defense, allowing an average of 121.4 yards per game. The Falcons have really struggled on third down, and have the worst ranking, allowing opponents to convert 55 percent of their opportunities. The Bucs offense has been good on third down this year, converting at a 41 percent clip.
Yet Atlanta isn’t as bad as its 1-4 record would indicate.
18-12 loss at Philadelphia (3-3)
31-24 win vs. Carolina (3-1)
43-37 OT loss vs. New Orleans (4-1)
37-36 loss vs. Cincinnati (4-1)
41-17 loss at Pittsburgh (2-2-1)
After a six-point road loss to the defending NFL Super Bowl champions in Philadelphia, the Falcons handed the Panthers their only loss of the season before falling in overtime to the Saints, the defending NFC South champions. After that defeat, the Falcons lost rare, back-to-back home games with a one-point loss to Cincinnati, followed by getting demolished at Pittsburgh.
The Falcons are typically a pretty good home team, and both of their last losses came by a combined seven points.
The Bucs are 1-3 under head coach Dirk Koetter, losing the last three games, and Ryan has had his way against Mike Smith’s defense.
Ryan vs. Bucs 2016-17
2016: 31-24 Bucs Win – 27-of-39 passing (69.2%) for 334 yards with 2 TDs, no INTs
2016: 43-28 Falcons Win – 25-of-34 passing (73.5%) for 344 yards with 4 TDs, no INTs
2017: 34-20 Falcons Win – 26-of-35 passing (74.3%) for 317 yards with 1 TD, no INTs
2017: 24-21 Falcons Win – 17-of-31 passing (54.8%) for 212 yards with 1 TD, no INTs
Over the last four games against Tampa Bay, Jones has 27 catches for 484 yards and four touchdowns, including a 12-catch, 253-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 34-20 win last year at Atlanta.
So after the tale of the tape, who wins this pivotal game? Atlanta seems to have the edge because they’ve had the Bucs’ number over the last three contests, and they are playing at home in a must-win situation at 1-4. The fact that Ryan has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions against Smith’s defense, and the fact that the Bucs only have one interception through the first four games of the year means that the Winston will have to play perfect football and avoid turnovers.
This game has the makings of a shoot-out that could come down to the last possession or be decided by the turnover margin.