The Falcons face the Buccaneers on Sunday. The winner of said matchup will earn a first place standing in the NFC South.
Wild stuff, huh?
There's a lot to unpack with this game just from the Falcons side alone. We're not even going to get into Tampa Bay's week, and yet it feels as though five things just are not enough to cover all of the storylines heading into this game. But don't worry, we keep it to five for you.
Without further preamble, let's get to it.
1. No KP. No CP.
After the Falcons placed Cordarrelle Patterson on injured reserve on Monday, following a minor knee procedure, Arthur Smith confirmed on Friday that Kyle Pitts would not play against the Bucs on Sunday as he works through a hamstring issue. Though Smith noted he does not believe Pitts' injury to be long term, this one-two-punch of news this week is a major blow for the Falcons offense.
Both Patterson and Pitts are a vital part of the Falcons offensive attack. Even with fantasy owners disapproving of Pitts' usage through the first four games of the season, no one can ignore his impact on the field even when he's not being targeted. Then, there's Patterson, who began the 2022 season in an all-out blaze. Patterson is one of the league's leading rushers through the first four weeks of the season. His loss stings, too.
The Falcons will look to a number of guys to fill the void left by Patterson and Pitts.
At running back, the Falcons will call upon Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley to carry the load like they did in the second half against the Browns. In said half, the two young backs showed they can be relied on, but a veteran Bucs defensive front will be quite the test for Allgeier, Huntley and the Falcons offensive line. Atlanta also has Avery Williams at their disposal, too. The primary return man has shown a few versatile usages within the offensive game plan that could be relied upon on Sunday, as well.
As for the tight end position, expect to see Feleipe Franks active for depth purposes. Parker Hesse should continue to be the Falcons go-to tight end, but Franks and Anthony Firkser could see extended playing time in Pitts' absence. The Falcons also have Tucker Fisk and MyCole Pruitt on the practice squad. Either of the two could be elevated on Saturday if the Falcons feel the need to go heavier at tight end.
No Pitts and no Patterson changes the way this Falcons offense operates. It'll also change how Tampa Bay defends it. Can the Falcons continue to produce offensively without two of their primary weapons? We'll see on Sunday.
2. Added pressure on Drake London
This could really be 1b. instead of 2. on this list but I felt like it deserved it's own section even though it follows along the same topic of Pitts and Patterson's absence on Sunday.
How Tampa Bay tries to take London away will be interesting to see when the game gets underway. Without Pitts on the field, London will likely get more of the defense's attention. How does this open things up for other receivers like Olamide Zaccheaus and KhaDarel Hodge? How does Marcus Mariota adjust? Does this make the Falcons rely even more on the run game Sunday?
We have seen the Falcons go to the run (heavily) when the pass game stalls. How does Tampa Bay respond if (and when) they do?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Falcons offensive operation right now. So, understanding how the Bucs view London's role in it early could dictate where the Falcons go as the game continues.
3. Ta'Quon Graham due up
I wrote about this last week and I'll write it again: Graham is playing really well for the Falcons right now. He leads the team in quarterback hits, but he has yet to bring an opposing quarterback to the ground yet. He's due for a sack. Big time.
Right now, the Falcons defensive penetration is night and day when comparing it to last year. Grady Jarrett is making game-altering plays, and Arnold Ebiketie and Lorenzo Carter are doing quite well for themselves coming off the edge. With the Falcons having released Anthony Rush on Thursday, the expectation would be to see Graham lined up beside Jarrett even more than he already is (which is already frequent).
What Graham does with those extra reps could be fun to watch. And even though it's Tom Brady in the pocket, he's not particularly known for that speed of his. Can the Falcons take advantage of that on Sunday? It could be huge if they can.
4. Can the Falcons get Isaiah Oliver back?
The second part of that question should be: "And if they can, does that change anything?"
Oliver returned from injured reserve earlier in the week after being placed on the list prior to the start of the season. Of the four 2021 starters who were placed on IR with Oliver (Marlon Davidson, Jalen Mayfield and Deion Jones), only Oliver returned to practice this week. Asked about the opportunity to activate Oliver on game day against Tampa Bay, Smith said that'll be a decision the staff makes on Saturday. He did add, though, that Oliver "has had a pretty good week" of practice.
Asked about the potential return of Oliver, Dean Pees said on Thursday there's still a lot that he needs to see before he makes a decision on Oliver's potential playing time at nickel.
"I will not know that until I watch him practice full-speed," Pees explained. "Some guys are better cover guys. Some guys are better blitzers. Some guys are better in zone. What I do like is like when I had Logan Ryan at Tennessee, those guys could do it all, it was great. Do I think Isaiah could do that a year ago before he got hurt? Yes. Do I think he can do it now? I don't know. I won't be able to give you an answer on that until I see him actually practice a lot and go full speed, full tilt all the time. Just to go out there in a jog-through is not going to tell me whether or not he's ready. We have to watch him full speed in practice to see if he's capable of doing it. I feel like if he can't we still have two guys that are playing very well."
Oliver's progress is something to watch in the weeks ahead, and that notion would remain the same whether he's activated this Sunday or not.
5. Will the Falcons take another game into the final minutes of the fourth quarter?
Every single game Atlanta has played this year - literally, all four of them in 2022 - have been decided by a play or two in the fourth quarter. The Falcons are 2-2 right now. They're a handful of plays from being 4-0. But also a handful of plays from being 0-4. Here they sit, though, with a chance to get above .500, and do so against a veteran Buccaneers team on Sunday. They're also playing for first place in the division, something many didn't think would be a topic of conversation at this point in the season.
Through four games, the Falcons have been competitive. They've shown up, and they've played physically through every game. It's that physicality that has not only kept them in these games, but in the position to win them. There is every indication that the same thing will happen this Sunday in Tampa Bay.
If the Falcons can take this game into the fourth quarter, they have a chance. They've shown that time and time again even in the early weeks of this season.
It could be a situation where the team that makes the biggest play of the fourth quarter wins the game. If so, it would be the same story, different week, different opponent for the Falcons. Do they have another fourth quarter stand in them? It could come down to it on Sunday. So far, they all have.
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, presented by Gatorade.