The Atlanta Falcons (3-7) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7) have completely different energies around them heading into Sunday’s matchup.
With impressive back-to-back wins against the Saints and the Panthers, the Falcons suddenly look like one of the league’s most dangerous teams following their bye week. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four games and turned the ball over four times in their Week 10 loss against the Saints.
The Falcons picked off Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen four times in their decisive 29-3 victory and are always focused on creating turnovers. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians won’t pin the turnovers, of which Tampa Bay has a league-leading 25, all on one player. He believes it’s been a combination of things that have led to the high number of giveaways.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Arian’s said of the collection of mistakes. “It’s not all on the quarterback, but some of it is. But the guys around him have to do better. We’re not creating enough turnovers, defensively, to offset it. That’s been the biggest problem, but it is a collection of guys.”
Given what the two offenses in this game are capable of, turnovers could play a key role in determining the outcome. Tampa Bay averages 285.6 passing yards per game, which is fourth-most in the league, while Atlanta is one spot ahead of them with an average of 300.3 yards per game.
The Buccaneers have the sixth-best offense in terms of yards per game with an average of 380.4, and they translate those yards into points at an average of 27.7 points per game. Therefore, when facing an offense that can move the ball effectively and score points, those turnovers are critical.
“I think to me, I do think the ball will be the outcome of the game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the turnovers. “There is some explosiveness that is going to happen. You can see for them, the amount of points they have scored, their ability to throw the ball, and on their defensive side they are going to create takeaways and stop the run. Those are some of the strong points of their team. I do feel like that will be a key part of this game for sure.”
Tampa Bay receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have the second- and third-most receiving yards in the league with 993 and 887 yards, respectively. Jones’s 882 receiving yards are fifth-most in the NFL thus far, and Ridley is coming off of the best game of his career.
“Out on the outside, if you like wide receiver play, this is the game to watch,” Quinn said. “Both teams have [explosive receivers] and both teams are capable of making explosive plays.”
Atlanta’s secondary has looked much more comfortable and confident during the last two wins, but it will have its hands full trying to slow down Evans and Godwin. If the Falcons’ pass rush can continue to apply pressure at the rate they have been, that would help out tremendously on the back end.
“Just looking at those last two games, they look a little different than previous [games],” Arians said. “Less man-to-man, more zone coverage. The pass rush has been outstanding the last two weeks. It’s a good combination of coverage and pass rush.”
The Falcons have a clear advantage at quarterback. Matt Ryan was rock-solid against the Panthers, throwing for 311 yards and a touchdown. Jameis Winston has thrown for 3,078 yards this season, the third-most in the NFL, but he’s also the league leader with 18 interceptions and has been sacked 36 times, more than any other quarterback.
If this does turn into a shootout in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons will feel comfortable letting Ryan loose. Even Arians, a noted offensive mind who has worked with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, has nothing but praise for Ryan.
“At the highest,” Arians said when asked his level of respect for the former NFL MVP. “I’ve always been a fan. I think he’s one of the premier pocket passers, and he’s just been an outstanding player for a long time.”